On Monday morning, Jan. 15, 2007, Kati Kim telephoned Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger and granted an interview to share her family's story in an effort to help others from repeating their experience. Her tale here is an excerpt from the full report.
Editor's note: Some editing has been made for length and clarification
Following is a transcript of Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger's interview with Kati Kim, excerpted from the Kim Search Review:
Investigators have attempted to get a first-hand account of the Kims' journey the night of Nov. 25, 2006, and their subsequent survival. Interview requests were unanswered by James' father, Spencer, through contact with his attorney.
On Monday morning, Jan. 15, 2007, Kati Kim telephoned Sheriff Tim Evinger and granted an interview to share her family's story in an effort to help others from repeating their experience.
Kati and James made the reservation at the Tu Tu Tun Lodge near Gold Beach while traveling south from the Portland area. Kati remembers that it was about 5 p.m. when they left Portland.
Kati and her husband, James, did not see any indication that the roads to the coast from Merlin were not being traveled. There were several indicators that led them to just the opposite conclusion.
The Kims stopped at a gas station in Merlin after exiting Interstate 5. After missing their exit near Roseburg, they pulled out an Oregon map that they carried in the car that showed a straight shot to the coast. James went into the gas station with his map to get some clarifications about directions while Kati stayed in the Saab with the girls.
James came back to the car frustrated. He thought that the attendant gave "strange directions" and that the man was acting like he didn't understand what James was asking. Kati felt that (the attendant) definitely didn't communicate that it was a dangerous route.
The Kims continued toward the coast following their map and the road signs.
At first, it was very dark but the weather was dry and not even raining for the first part of their journey. Kati remembered seeing a snowplow parked alongside the road as they continued and made a mental note that the road must be one that is maintained.
Kati also noticed that the road was narrowing and thought that it might be challenging to pass an oncoming car with the amount of space available. They continued following small signs that directed them to the "coast." ... A short time later, they made a turn that went "up" and noticed a sign that stated "Road May be Blocked by Snowdrifts 6 Miles Ahead." Kati advised that this was the very first indication that the roads they were on are not traveled like they initially thought.
At nearly the same moment that they started past the sign, it began snowing and they ran across snow on the road. James wanted to turn around on the road but Kati thought it was too dangerous given how narrow the road was combined with the darkness and the steep sides. Both James and Kati noticed tire tracks in the snow but could not distinguish if they were fresh. Kati was certain that they were going to be headed down the coastal side of the range any minute, but then they ran across a hill that took them up into more snow.
James opened the driver's door of the car and carefully backed down the road to the intersection below the warning sign. It was at this point that the Kims attempted to call 9-1-1 on all three of the cell phones they were carrying. They were not able to get a signal on any of them.
It was starting to snow harder so they made a decision to take the road that went lower. Thinking that lower road would get them out of the snow zone, they continued on. The road became so narrow that turning around became more difficult. The paved road turned to gravel.
The Kims initially took the road up to the left, backed down in the snow and then took the lower road down to the right. Both are paved at this point.
At about 2 o'clock in the morning, the Kims knew they were definitely disoriented and chose to park their car at a "T" intersection. They thought there was a good chance that one of the plows might be by during the night or in the morning.
When they awoke, it was raining at the altitude where they were parked. They knew that to get back out, they would have to go up through the snow zone.
They could hear a noise in the distance that they believed to be snowplows at work. They later realized that is was the sound of the water in the nearby Rogue River. They used more of the remaining gas in the car to stay warm. They used the heater and turned on the heated seats in the Saab. Weighing the fact that they would have to travel back up in altitude and that they were lost in a maze of roads, they chose to stay put and conserve the remaining gas for heat. The Kims were confident that a ranger would be along soon.
Kati and James found an open gate near where they had parked. In crayon, James wrote out a note that said: "Low on Gas, Low on Food, 2 Babies." They put the note in a Ziploc bag and stuck it in the gate.
The Kims awoke Monday morning, Nov. 27, to heavy snowfall. Kati described the snowfall as having "bent the tree branches nearly to the ground."
Kati told of her survival plan that she made as soon as (she) and James knew they were lost for an extended period. She planned on having the food in the car last for two weeks, even if it meant "one mouthful a day," In fact, Kati stated that there was some rice cereal left when they were rescued. Kati put snow into bottles and warmed them in the sun for drinking water and she breast fed the two girls. She also related the three rules that she and James agreed on while at the car: No getting wet, no getting hurt, no getting sick.
James and Kati moved all their belongings to the front seat and laid the seats down in the back of the car. They were all able to sleep together, keep each other warm and sleep more comfortably than in the seats. The Kims were able to listen to a distant radio station which they thought was out of Seattle.
The Kims then worked on putting out signs and signals near their car. They would walk to the open gate to check on it about five times a day and they stomped out "SOS" in the snow. They thought of who might report them missing and worried about those back home who counted on them. Kati and James also honked the car horn often and yelled for help.
Four days after getting lost and eventually snowbound, James and Kati were studying the Oregon map in their car. They noticed "a tiny box" up in the corner of the map that had the message: "Not all Roads Advisable, Check Weather Conditions." Kati went to college in Eugene and was reflecting on a drive between Eugene and Florence on the Oregon coast. She believed that the route to the coast they took on this trip would have similar terrain. This route was significantly more mountainous and the road much more narrow than she expected.
The car completely ran out of the rationed gas by Thursday, Nov. 30. Kati related that at this point, James was keeping a fire going every day. They decided to take the spare tire out of the car and burn it on their warming fire in hopes of signaling help.
James punctured the tire and put in onto the fire. The smoke was black but the trees were so tall that the smoke seemed to dissipate before it got above the timber.
On Friday, Dec. 1, Kati and James decided to build a bigger fire and burn more tires to again try to get someone's attention. They first took two tires off the car and got a good deal of black smoke going. They then furthered their effort by putting the other two tires on the fire as well as finding anything "caustic" in the car to burn to create black smoke. Kati walked down the road a ways to get a look at the plume. She said that this time it was getting above the trees and might be visible to someone. Kati stated, "If they won't come save us, maybe they will come save their forest," referring to the rangers who still had not come by. The Kims were still expecting someone to be by in a four wheel drive "anytime."
The signal fire had just "fizzled" out when Kati and James heard a helicopter in the area. James frantically tried to relight the fire hoping those in the helicopter might see it. It was so damp and wet that he couldn't get the fire going again. Kati describes that afternoon, near dark about 4:30 p.m., as one of the toughest moments of their ordeal. They realized they had another night in the car.
James and Kati discussed a plan where James was going to set out on foot to look for help. Kati recounts "James left us with the belief that there was a town called Galice only about four miles from our camp. He thought this town would have amenities, and would be located next to the river. There were, in fact, signposts with numbers posted directly in front of us and to the right of our camp, but we could not discern the meaning of these numbers."
He had barely eaten over the past week, "saving the food for the babies." James took lighters, scissors and extra colorful clothes with him. Kati remembers that he left at "exactly 7:46" (Saturday) morning. James was going to cut strips of clothing and tie the strips to trees so that he could mark his way back to the car.
James was to turn around by 1 o'clock that afternoon. He never returned. James had a watch on when he left. Kati states that it was not working when the watch was returned to her later, after James was found.
Kati made an effort the next day (Sun day) to walk out with the children. She states that she strapped them on her body and walked for about two and a half hours before she returned. She was too weak. Kati again heard a helicopter on this day.
Kati stated that she had taken the visor out of the passenger side of their car. She had practiced directing the mirror, mounted in the visor, at passing airplanes.
On Monday, Dec. 4, Kati again heard a helicopter in the area and started signaling with the vanity mirror. As she did, the helicopter came closer and closer until it started circling. She put down the mirror and started waving a pink umbrella. Kati stated that almost immediately two more helicopters "swooped" in and started dropping food. She said that she started feeding the girls chocolate.
She said that they were very thirsty and the helicopter crews started dropping Gatorade bottles but they kept exploding open. Within 10 minutes, a helicopter landed nearby and loaded her and the girls for their ride to safety. It was then she learned that they had not found James.
Kati expressed her gratitude for the efforts of all the searchers and law enforcement officers who worked diligently to find her and her family. She acknowledged the many who put her family first and put themselves in harm's way to help.