Father's body recovered after intense search in Siskiyous; local rescuers 'devastated'

Josephine County Undersheriff Brian Anderson breaks down and walks away from the microphones Wednesday in Merlin while announcing that the body of James Kim had been found.Associated Press

MERLIN ó The body of San Francisco father James Kim was found in Oregon's snowy coastal mountains on Wednesday, searchers said.

Kim's body was at the foot of the Big Windy Creek drainage, a half mile from the Rogue River, where ground crews and helicopters had been searching for days.

It appeared he traveled about seven miles from his car. He set out on foot Saturday seeking help for his family, stranded nearly a week on a road through the mountains.

"He was very motivated," said Brian Anderson, undersheriff of Josephine County. "We were having trouble in there. He traveled a long distance."

Kim's wife, Kati, and their two children, Penelope, 4, and Sabine, 7 months, were rescued Monday.

A helicopter hired by Kim's family spotted the body about noon Wednesday and lowered a rescue worker to confirm that it was Kim's.

Jackson County sheriff's SWAT team members, who had been grounded by fog until about noon, had just dropped a rescue team when they got the call Kim had been found.

"We did not know what condition he was in. All we knew was he was found downstream from where we dropped the team," Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters said.

The rescuers were "devastated," said Anderson, who had to turn away from the microphones, overcome by emotion, after announcing Kim's death. "Most of us breathed and lived this for days. You do take it personally."

Anderson said he had few details about Kim's condition or the immediate area where he was found.

The body was taken to Central Point for an autopsy. Results were expected to be released today after his family was given details.

Earlier in the day, searchers said they had uncovered clues that suggested Kim, 35, a senior editor for the technology media company CNET Networks Inc., had shed some clothing and arranged it to give searchers clues to his whereabouts. They had also made plans to drop rescue packages for Kim with clothing, emergency gear and provisions.

Oregon State Police Lt. Gregg Hastings praised Kim's family, which had financed helicopter searches.

"They have been true champions throughout this whole ordeal," Hastings said.

Authorities said that over a period of days, Kati Kim recalled more and more them details that allowed them to piece together her husband's final days.

After visiting Seattle and Portland over the Thanksgiving holiday, the family headed back to California, planning to stay overnight at a luxury lodge along the Rogue River near Gold Beach on the southern Oregon coast.

After stopping for dinner in Roseburg on Nov. 25, they headed south on Interstate 5, intending to cross the Coast Range on Oregon Highway 42.

Kati Kim told searchers that when they realized they had missed the turnoff, they looked at a roadmap and found a direct route that went from the little town of Merlin over the mountains to Gold Beach. They did not consult their two laptop computers for an online map.

After leaving the freeway, the Kims drove past a gas station, pizza parlor and coffee shop. On the way they passed at least three yellow signs warning that Bear Camp Road to Agnes and Gold Beach might be blocked by snowdrifts. The road is paved but one lane, originally built to haul logs out of the Siskiyou National Forest.

Driving higher through the snow in their all-wheel-drive silver Saab station wagon, the Kims came to a fork. A fourth yellow sign warned of snowdrifts blocking the way if they took the left fork to Gold Beach. They took the right fork, not knowing where it went.

Kati Kim told searchers they got stuck in snow once, managed to get turned around, then decided to stay put because they were low on gas. With almost no food or water, the family waited a week, running the car to keep warm at night, then burning the tires. When the small supply of baby food ran out, Kati Kim nursed her daughters.

James Kim left the car, and then the road, and bushwhacked five miles down the steep canyon, covering about seven miles through rough country, but ending up about a mile as the crow flies from the car.

"It seems superhuman to me to cover that amount of distance given what he had," said Anderson.

On Monday, a helicopter hired by the family spotted Kati waving an umbrella and rescued her and the two girls. They left a hospital in Grants Pass Tuesday and were described as in good condition.

Searchers poured into the surrounding area. Trained trackers followed James Kim's footprints through the snow until they descended the Big Windy below the snow line, then scuffs in the mud and mossy rocks through the underbrush. The weather remained dry, but temperatures dipped well below freezing at night. Fog hung in the creek bottom.

On Tuesday searchers were heartened to find first a pair of pants Kim had been wearing over his jeans, then farther down the creek some other wet clothing ó two shirts, a cap, a sock and a girl's skirt. A searcher had to be lowered from a helicopter to gather them up.

"They were laid out in a well defined area, in a pattern," Hastings said. The pattern led officers to hope that "little signs are being left by James."

But an expert on hypothermia said it was a bad sign: victims of cold often feel a false sense of warmth and shed their clothes.

Mail Tribune reporter Chris Conrad contributed to this report.


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