But their planes wouldn't have helped much in steep canyon terrain, sheriff says

As the Josephine County Sheriff's Office sits sandwiched between reviews mandated by Gov. Ted Kulongoski and the Oregon State Sheriff's Association for its role in searching for the stranded Kim family, members of the local Civil Air Patrol wonder if they could've made a difference in the outcome.
But Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters said enough of the right resources were in on the search in rugged mountainous terrain that wasn't suited to CAP's Cessna airplanes.
Robert Soltz, a five-year pilot with the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), described how he watched helplessly as rescue teams from all across the state combed the forests east of Merlin searching for the San Francisco family.
James and Kati Kim and their two young daughters got lost the night of Nov. 25 trying to cross Bear Camp Road through the Siskiyou National Forest during a winter storm. Days later, James Kim died of exposure while attempting to walk out for help.
And just as when the Higginbotham family got lost for two weeks in March on a remote road west of Glendale on their way to the coast, the Civil Air Patrol could do nothing but watch the drama unfold on television. "We were never called, never asked for our expertise," Soltz said.
The CAP is a federally funded group of volunteers who aid law enforcement in searches when air surveillance is needed. They fly small Cessna planes outfitted with complex search equipment. They have one plane stationed permanently at the Medford Airport and six throughout the state, Soltz said.
"This is a free resource that is not being utilized," he added. "If it was a money issue I could understand it."
Soltz said the last time the CAP was called out for a search was in 2003.
And though Soltz acknowledges that no one can predict if the Kim story would've had a happy ending if the CAP was involved in the search, he is left wondering why they were never called to help.
In Oregon, the local sheriff's department acts as the first responder in searches. They have to make the call to the CAP when needed.
Winters said he isn't simply ignoring the CAP, they just weren't suited for the Kim or Higginbotham searches.
"Their (planes) aren't effective in deep canyon searches," Winters explained. "We had helicopters from all over in the area. A 'copter is better for searching in tall timber because it can fly at a lower altitude and can be used to drop teams into the site."
He also noted that having too many aircraft buzzing around a tight area could spell danger. In Winters' mind, there was enough traffic in the sky during the Kim search.
"I'm aware of the (CAP) and they're a good bunch of guys over there," the sheriff said. "If we need them, we'll call. They're just another tool in the toolbox."
Winters did say he would be meeting with CAP Capt. Larry Kendrick soon to iron out any differences the agencies may have. The meeting could happen right around the first of the year, he said.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail .