Skip to main content


Return to Transcripts main page


Stranded: The James Kim Ordeal

Aired December 11, 2006 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, "Stranded," the entire story, from beggining to end, the road they never intended taking, the dangers anyone would face and how to overcome them. And following James Kim's footsteps, retracing his final desperate attempt to get help.
As CNN's Paula Zahn reports, none of this could have been forseen when the Kim family set out for a Thanksgiving holiday.


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): This is a story of a family and of a father, the kind of story which should have a happy ending, but doesn't, the story of a husband and wife, lost in the Oregon wilderness, struggling to save their two young children and themselves. It's a story of love and hope, life and death, the story of a father who made the ultimate sacrifice, trying to save the family he loved more than anything else in the world.

This is the story of the Kim family, 35-year-old James, his wife, Kati, 4-year-old Penelope, and 7-month-old Sabine.

It begins on Friday, November 17, when the Kims leave their home in San Francisco, and drive their silver Saab station wagon to Seattle for a family Thanksgiving with James' aunt and uncle. They had a wonderful time.

CHRIS YOUN, COUSIN OF JAMES KIM: During Thanksgiving, it's like, when I was talk -- you know, when I would just talk to him, one on one, or with my parents, he would always be distracted because of his kids. And it seemed like they came first, you know, before anything.

ZAHN: A week later, the Kims leave Seattle for Portland, Oregon, where they eat brunch with a friend, Ryan Lee.

RYAN LEE, KIM FAMILY FRIEND: Well, I went to college with Kati. And she's been a good friend of mine for 10 -- 10 years, at least. And, you know, she met James down in California. And then he moved up to Eugene for a while, and, you know, just college stuff, you know, hanging out.

ZAHN: The next day, Saturday, November 25, they head for a lodge in Gold Beach, Oregon, where they plan on spending the night. The family stops for dinner at a Denny's in the central Oregon town of Roseburg, and leaves around 9:00 p.m.

They plan on driving west to Highway 42 to the coast, and then south on US-101 to Gold Beach, about a three-hour drive. However, the family misses the turn.

They look at a map, and decide to take a different route, south on I-5, to Grants Pass, and then west from there, a fateful decision for a young family and a young man who seemed to be charmed.

KIM: Hey, everybody. It's James Kim here, senior editor of MP3s at CNET. And I have with me the first look in my palm. This is the MobiBlu Cube 2.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the kind of job a lot of us would love to have. Remember Tom Hanks in the movie "Big"? He played with toys to see what other kids would like.

Well, James Kim essentially had the same job. The 35-year-old editor for CNET, a leading technology Web site, tested and played the latest high-tech music gadgets, and then advised consumers on what to buy.

KIM: The reason I like it is because it's $20.

SIMON: James Kim wasn't just concerned about your wallet, but about your happiness as a parent. After all, these are important purchases for your kids.

KIM: It's a digital audio player, and my 3-year-old daughter actually approves of it. She picked it up and started using it, and started having fun with it without any direction at all. In fact, she skipped the manual, just like her dad does.

SIMON: James often talked about his own kids on his Webcast, Penelope and baby Sabine. Friends and colleagues say he was ever the devoted father and husband to Kati.

HAHN CHOI, FRIEND AND FORMER COLLEAGUE OF JAMES KIM: As a father, I know he love his kids so much. And his wife. He loved them so much. I know he would do anything for them.

SIMON: Hahn Choi used to work for James at another high-tech venture, but says it felt more like a friendship.

CHOI: I never saw him get mad. He was one of those people you could talk to all the time, you know? You know, it's strange, because, you know, he was just a really good, good human being. It just doesn't -- you don't find that very often.

SIMON: James was raised in Louisville, Kentucky. His high school principal, Sandy Allen (ph), says, he excelled in school, and, even then, had a keen interest in technology.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We had a very, very -- I don't know what kind of computer lab you would call it. There were Tandys in it. And our -- our parents put the lab out there. And he took full advantage of it. And when I read what he was doing now, and -- and -- and how that little computer lab may have given him the jump-start, it just made me just feel wonderful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There aren't anymore small, small ones. And, so, we're just out of those.


SIMON: James had an entrepreneurial streak as well.

In San Francisco, he and Kati opened up two retail stores, a apothecary and an eclectic clothing shop. Friends marveled at how he was able to manage his life, the shops, fatherhood, his tech reviews.

Tom Merritt worked with him at CNET.

TOM MERRITT, CNET: I have no idea how he was able to pull it off. He was an expert multitasker. In fact, when you would stop by his cube, and ask him a question, you could see he was thinking about six different things. At the same time, he was able to help you perfectly with whatever you needed.

KIM: Put this on. It looks like a regular protective helmet, except check it out.



SIMON: Veronica Belmont knew him about as well as anyone at CNET. They co-hosted a show, and had a lot of fun doing it. If James was having a bad day, she says he never let on.

BELMONT: Even when he was at his most frazzled, or was worried about something or stressed out about something, he would ask, like, how is your day going? Are you OK? How is everything working out for you?

He was very thoughtful and very sweet.

SIMON: And James had the kind of family life and job many of us would envy.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): But all that was about to change.

On the night of November 25, James Kim and his family made the decision to drive west on Bear Camp Road, through the mountains of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, trying to reach the Oregon coast.

Before you even start heading up the mountain, there are three signs, each a warning that snow may block your way. When James Kim made this turn that night, the rain in Merlin, Oregon, was just beginning to mix with snow.

JOHN JAMES, BLACK BAR RANCH OWNER: At this point right here, when we make our turn right now, we are going to significantly rise up. And you will realize that you're definitely going into the mountains. GRIFFIN: John James has made this turn literally thousands of times. He runs the Black Bar Lodge, deep inside the Rogue River wilderness, but only during the spring and summer. His guests arrive by raft or by hiking in. His supplies arrive by this rough mountain road.

JAMES: We could, at any point, be 25 miles from another human. And so, in the vehicle, I have always got a flashlight. I have provisions for making a fire. We're always, in our mind, that we could potentially have to spend the night out here, even in good weather conditions.

I'm going to stop right here.

GRIFFIN: Of all the bad decisions the Kims made, the one they made at this confusing fork in the road would prove the most deadly.

(on camera): It was here, they had to decide to go to the left, up, or to the right, down. Right looks like the bigger road. Right looks like the better road. But right is the wrong road. Their only sign that would have told them that would be right here, which said the coast was this way. Again, it was snowing. It was dark. They may have missed it. And the only sign warning them that going to the right was wrong would have been right down here, on the pavement, painted, "Dead End," which was covered in snow.

JAMES: These would have been painted on here by my family, my wife, my mother-in-law, myself, by the shuttle drivers who -- who shuttle traffic over this road during the summertime for the rafting and the fishing trips. And the BLM road crews that maintain these roads, maintain the ditches, and -- and keep the trees from encroaching on the road, they would be the ones that did, just it in a good samaritan effort, just to try and...

GRIFFIN: Because so many people get confused. Coast this way. That way, dead end.

JAMES: Absolutely. Absolutely.

GRIFFIN: Now, the cynics are going to say, why aren't there big signs off the ground? There was snow on the ground.

JAMES: I don't have an answer for that. I would say probably because this is not a winter travel route.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Just past the fork, the Kims pass through this gate. It is normally locked for the winter. But, that night, the gate was open. Vandals had broken the lock.

Had the gate been in place, the Kims never would have proceeded down this desolate road. Beyond the gate, the road narrows quickly. Snow and ice lingering in the dark canyon corners make the road slick, even in a four-wheel-drive truck, let alone in a Saab station wagon.

(on camera): I want you to get a sense of the road they continued to drive down. The road, most likely, still had rocks on it, like these blocking the way. They may even have had to get out of the car and move some of those rocks.

It is a dirt road. They might have thought, we will just keep going. We will keep going, and we must find somebody. We must find something. But this is the Rogue River wilderness. It is wild. The further in you go, the wilder it gets. They didn't know it. But they were heading to the edge of nowhere.

JAMES: Yes, I think it's human nature, is to -- maybe the optimist in people is to think, I know I have come 25 miles this way and have seen nothing. Certainly, right around the next corner must be a gas station.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): We pass the gate to Black Bar Lodge. It is closed for the winter. The Kims drove for miles beyond even here. The road becomes rutted. Then, after three hours, we find the very spot where the Kims became stranded.

(on camera): He's come to another fork in the road here. Now he's -- he's stopped here. You have no idea. There's no signs. John, there is nothing.

(voice-over): At 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning, James, Kati and their two young daughters can go no farther. Their cell phone doesn't work. And they're nearly out of gas. They are a family stranded for the night, alone in the wilderness, living a nightmare.




ZAHN (voice-over): The beautiful, but brutal mountains of southern Oregon.

Sunday, November 26, morning dawns for James Kim, his wife and two small children. They are stranded. With little gas left in their station wagon, worsening weather conditions, and with no idea where they were, the Kims pulled off the road the night before, but now daylight brings pounding rain and driving snow.

LIEUTENANT GREGG HASTINGS, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, OREGON STATE POLICE: They made numerous attempt to try to call for assistance using a cell phone, but there is really bad cell service in that area. And, apparently, they were unable to get out.

ZAHN: James, Katie and the kids are stuck on a dangerous logging road, 30 miles west of Grants Pass, a town of reasonable size on their map. They would spend five days, five long and frightening days, in this remote spot, before rescue efforts even begin.

Kati later gave details to her rescuers.

HASTINGS: On Monday, November 27, she indicated it snowed all day. It was snowing so hard they had to stay in the car. They occasionally started up the car to heat it just to stay warm. Tuesday, November 28, it snowed again and rained all day. They stayed in the car, occasionally, again, starting it up so they could have heat.

ZAHN: In San Francisco friends and family are concerned. Charlene Wright is the manager of the Church Street Apothecary, one of two boutiques that the Kims own.

CHARLENE WRIGHT, MANAGER, CHURCH STREET APOTHECARY: We expected them back on Monday night. Tuesday came around, I didn't have any word from her. I don't have any, you know, no notes or e-mails or anything. That was a little -- pretty unusual, especially after coming back from such a long vacation.

ZAHN: After three or four days of being stranded in the hostile coast range mountains of southern Oregon, the Kims finally run out of gas.

They started fires with magazines and wet driftwood to stay warm.

Thursday, November 30, they used a spare tire in the vehicle to start a fire in the afternoon.

ZAHN: And now friend Charlene Wright's concern turns into alarm.

WRIGHT: So, I went to the house. And it was obvious that no one had been there as of Tuesday night.

And I, you know, decided, I don't want to make a big fuss. I will give them the benefit of the doubt. I will sleep on it, you know? And, then, Wednesday morning came, and I realized something was really wrong.

ZAHN: Wright goes to the police and files a missing-persons report. Word of the Kims' disappearance begins to spread.

LEE: I got a call from a friend who lives in Chicago. And she had asked me if I had seen them.

ZAHN: Kati's college friend Ryan Lee is one of the last people to see James alive, the day before the family vanishes.

LEE: And I -- I said, yes, went out to brunch, you know, on -- on Saturday with him. What's going on, you know? Didn't -- didn't know that they hadn't shown up. And then she says, well, they haven't made it back to San Francisco. And I was like, oh, they probably stopped somewhere.

Then, I found out that they hadn't been answering their phone calls, that they had missed important meetings and whatnot at work. So, that's kind of -- was a -- was a big shocker, because that's not like them at all, to -- to do that. I just have to believe that there is some explanation for it.

You know, I -- I don't -- you can't think the worst, or else you're not going to get -- get through the day. ZAHN: Four days into the crisis, the Kims are very cold and hungry. They melt snow for water, and ration baby food and crackers for the kids. At first, James and Kati eat wild berries, but give that up, for fear of being poisoned.

Kati was not only able to breast-feed her 7-month-old daughter, Sabine. She also breast-fed 4-year-old Penelope.

HASTINGS: Friday, December 1, they -- she indicated that they burned all four remaining tires. They were trying to signal for some help. And, also, it was a source of heat.

But the wood was hard to get because it was frozen. It was hard to move. And they -- what wood they would get, they would try to store underneath the car to keep it dry, if they could, or at least let it dry out, so they could use it. And then, later on that afternoon, the fire had already gone out.

ZAHN: A formal search begins. Police, family members and volunteers begin combing the area. James' sister Eva even begins searching credit card records. But, with four highways, dozens of rural snowbound roads and elevations reaching 4,000 feet, the task at hand is daunting.

Lieutenant Dennis Dinsmore is with the local sheriff's department.

LIEUTENANT DENNIS DINSMORE, CURRY COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: We have had ground crews attempt to drive clear through. They were stopped due to the impassable conditions. Four-wheel-drive vehicles were unable to go further.

ZAHN: That afternoon, despite the fact they hear the sound of helicopters, the family, Kati would let later tell her rescuers, felt anything but safe. After nearly a week, James Kim takes a desperate step to save his wife and children. He leaves his family and the shelter of his car to get help.

HASTINGS: They thought that the town of Galice was about four miles away, where in reality, it was probably more like around 15 miles away. But James thought that he could reach it in a couple hours.

ZAHN: As James leaves his family behind, the Kims face the ultimate question: how to survive.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Kims' plan was a good one. So says park ranger and survival expert Ken Brink.

KEN BRINK, SURVIVAL EXPERT, COLORADO STATE PARKS: I think they made a lot of good decisions, and stayed with the vehicle, and stayed with their shelter. I think, because of that -- many people don't do that. I think, because of that, that's why probably three members of the family survived.

SANCHEZ: Shelter is the first priority in what experts call the rule of threes. You can survive about three weeks without food, three days without water, but, in extreme conditions, they say, only three hours without shelter.

But a shelter also needs heat, a problem that can be easy to solve in a vehicle.

Here's how you do that. A candle in a coffee can will keep you warm through the night. But with or without a candle, no matter how safe, how secure a shelter is, it's also tight and confining, and it can be maddening.

BRINK: Being in a confined space in a storm for a long period of time is a difficult thing. People that climb mountains have tents that are bright yellow to help them combat depression, and help them cope with the claustrophobia. And I would imagine that some of those factors would be the same in a vehicle, I would imagine.

SANCHEZ: Of course, the greatest unknown that the Kims faced was how long to wait for rescuers before leaving the shelter of their stranded car.

BRINK: At some point, when do you try to, you know, leave your shelter and make your way to help?

There are certainly some incidents where that's worked. And it's hard to know. Nobody has got a crystal ball. Nobody can understand that the plane might be coming in a day. Certainly, after a period of a week, when things are getting desperate, I think you have got to make difficult calls.

SANCHEZ: For James and Kati Kim, a difficult call they would have to make.


ZAHN: So, exactly what happens when you are trapped in a small space, exposed to extreme cold, hunger, and, even worse than that, uncertainty?

In just a minute, the story from someone who knows -- a snowstorm buried him alive in his SUV for 14 days.


ZAHN: So, what is it like to be stranded for days on the lonely, snowbound road in the wilderness with little food, little water?

Just last month, that happened to Daryl Jane.


ZAHN (voice-over): Daryl Jane knows how it feels to be stranded, near death.

DARYL JANE, SURVIVOR: And I thought, uh-oh. You know, this -- what I thought was going to be a couple of days before they find me might turn into a couple more.

ZAHN: On this day, Daryl will reunite with the man who saved his life, James Beslow.

JANE: The guy is a hero, no question about it. I am looking forward to see him, most definitely.

Yes, there he is.

JAMES BESLOW, RESCUER: Hey, Daryl. What's going on?

JANE: What's happening, my man?


ZAHN: Just three weeks ago, Daryl was stranded in a blizzard near Beslow remote town in southwest Washington.

BESLOW: We come to get the vehicle out, right?

JANE: Yes, sure. Yes, we are going to hook it to the snowmobile and just tow it -- tow it right out.


ZAHN: They're heading back to that miracle spot. Jim found Daryl and his jeep buried under five feet of snow.

BESLOW: Unbelievable.

ZAHN: Daryl knew just enough to survive a grueling two weeks in the bitter cold. He conserved his limited water, which was less than a gallon.

He rationed his food, only one Rice cake and four banana chips a day. His strategy? Stay inside the jeep, covered to his neck in a sleeping bag...

JANE: Yes, I had cheap cargo pants, real thin. I had a -- a T- shirt and a thermal, and this jacket.

Because this door was getting buried, you know? One -- one night, it was up this high, and I couldn't open it.

ZAHN: ... getting out only to scrape the snow off the jeep's roof, in the hopes that rescuers would spot his location.

JANE: That was my main plan, keep -- keep that hood, because you can see the blue against the white. You know, if you fly over you are going to see that.

All through it, I knew my family would be looking for me. I knew they wouldn't give up until they found me, dead or alive. So, what went through my head was, just stay alive today.

ZAHN: And he did, walking out of a hospital without even a cold. The next day, Daryl learned that another man and his family were stranded. Daryl hopped into his van to join the rescue efforts to save the Kim family.

JANE: If I could just encourage the family, tell them what just happened to, me and tell them to keep looking, that they were going to find him, that I could help out that way, at the very least.

ZAHN: Based on news stories, Daryl realized that James Kim had a much tougher decision to make than he did.

JANE: This man had to save his family, and I just had to save myself.

ZAHN: When James Beslow last snowmobiled down this treacherous route, he had no idea if he would find Daryl Jane dead or alive. But he had a good feeling.

BESLOW: Coming around the corner, and bingo. There's the jeep.

JANE: I thought I was dreaming, because, when I opened that door, what I expected was a helicopter to be flying past me, you know? "Wait," you know? You know, like Gilligan waving goodbye to the helicopter.

I didn't expect a snowmobiler.

BESLOW: Then, I seen something moving in the cabin. I will tell you what. When that thing started moving, i thought, I don't believe it. "He is alive?" I said outloud.

JANE: He had the sun backlit. He looked like some kind of mighty angel warrior, you know?

BESLOW: I said, give me five. And I grabbed him, and I kind of shook him a little bit. And we were dancing and stuff, like that, for five minutes. And I says, you better put your shoes on. I'm going to take you home.

ZAHN: But now, inside the jeep, a reminder of just how close Daryl came to death.

JANE: I wrote this on Sunday, November 26, I think it was.

ZAHN: He finds the goodbye letter that he wrote on the eighth day, when, out of water, he feared the worst.

JANE: "I want everyone to know that I accept my fate. God's will is God's will. Please don't feel tragic about me. Stay strong and love one another. Love, love, love. That's all that matters."

And then I wrote, "I do not fear death. Love to all, Daryl."

That was it.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: And it was Daryl Jane's close call with death that inspired him to join the search for the Kim family, stranded in the Oregon wilderness.

In just a minute, we'll retrace James Kim's footsteps through that rugged, hostile landscape as he struggled to save his family.



ZAHN (voice-over): It's been days since James and Kati Kim and their two daughters, 4-year-old Penelope and 7-month-old Sabine, were last seen. Ryan Lee, who had brunch with the Kims at this Portland restaurant, is beside himself.

RYAN LEE, KIM FAMILY FRIEND: You know, I'm really scared, actually. You know, I mean, I'm trying to keep it together. You know, I just have to believe that there is some explanation for it, you know? I don't -- you know, you can't think the worst, or else you're not going to get through the day.

I'm having conflicting emotions about it, you know? I mean, half of me says, like, everything's going to be fine, and then half of me is like, wow, this is major.

ZAHN: James and Kati are always prompt. So it's unlike them to miss several appointments, which they've done. Friends and relatives are having no luck reaching them on their cell phones.

James' sister Eva says the family is fearing the worst.

EVA KIM, JAMES KIM'S SISTER: Sabine is 7 months old, and Penelope is 4. And so we're just really worried about the kids specifically, and we're worried about my brother and his wife, but it just seems really unfair that the girls are there and just maybe suffering. So it just really makes us kind of stressed out.

ZAHN: Rescuers received news that a faint signal from James' cell phone has been picked up deep within the rugged coast range mountains. Meanwhile, James' father Spencer Kim has hired his own helicopters to search for the family. And he even uses his connections as CEO of an aerospace company to move a satellite into position.

UNDERSHERIFF BRIAN ANDERSON, JOSEPHINE COUNTY, OREGON: We have received information that a satellite has been rerouted over the search area. I believe it was requested by Mr. Kim. They're going to come over and take a picture of the area, and we'll take a look at what information that develops, if it helps us at all.

ZAHN: Canvassing the treacherous terrain on the ground and in the air, rescuers are determined.

ANDERSON: We are motivated. And after meeting with Spencer Kim last night, we are going to find James. ZAHN: Businessman John Rasher pilots his own helicopter. And he knows this unforgiving landscape as well as anyone. Moved by news accounts, he takes to the skies looking for clues. He's elated by what he discovers.

JOHN RASHER, HELICOPTER PILOT: First, I saw movement down in the trees, and something rapidly moving back and forth. As I got closer, I could see it was someone waving an umbrella.

When I got up to her, there was an SOS stormed in the snow, in big letters, probably five feet high. And then next to that it said "out of gas," that was stomped in the snow.

I didn't feel comfortable landing there. It was very tight where she was. I couldn't have landed right where the car was.

ZAHN: Another helicopter is called in. It maneuvers into the narrow pass. What they find is a miracle.

DANIEL TOWNSEND, VOLUNTEER PILOT: Her first response when I walked up to her is, she just had a big smile on her face, she was jumping up and down, you know, just saying, thank you for finding us, for getting us.

ZAHN: Despite being stranded for nine days, Kati Kim and the kids are fine.

Kati's parents, Phil and Sandy Fleming, were interviewed by Larry King just hours after hearing the news.

PHIL FLEMING, KATI KIM'S FATHER: At this point -- I have certainly a big bag of emotions, it's been an extremely difficult week. I am elated that the children have been found and that we have our babies back. But I have an intense worry about James at this point.

ZAHN: Kati, seen in this photo taken at the rescue site, pleads for the search to continue. She hasn't seen James since he set out on foot two days before.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sergeant Joe Heller of the Josephine County Sheriff's Department is one of the searchers who tracked James Kim.

(on camera): Even if you walked out of here, which he did, and knew the way, that is one hell of a hike.


GRIFFIN: If you stayed on the road.

HELLER: Correct.

GRIFFIN: You get off the road here, I would say in about 100 yards you wouldn't know where you were. HELLER: Yeah. Easy. It is very easy to get disoriented in this terrain. If you were to get a plot down here, that road looks like that road, which looks like that road.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So I've got to believe that this is an article of theirs.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Along with John James, the owner of the Black Bar Lodge, Sergeant Heller and I survey the site where the Kims' vehicle was found.

HELLER: Found the lug nuts from his wheels. Found jars of baby formula, which are -- or baby food, which we know that the Kim family had.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seeing the diapers there is difficult, knowing that there was a 7-month-old baby out here for nine days.

HELLER: This is where Mr. Kim ended up burning the tires of his vehicle. He burnt that for the heat, initially. They wanted to create smoke to try to get a smoke column to attract attention to themselves.

GRIFFIN (on camera): He burns the tires. Nobody comes. Now he's out of tires. The vehicle is not moving, and he thinks his only way to save his family is to leave his family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I can't imagine having to make that choice.

They had to be just completely distraught. It's -- it would be overwhelming.

GRIFFIN: I guess he headed back this way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Apparently. Must have been the hardest decision that man ever faced in his life, to leave his wife and his two babies in an area where he knew was nothing.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Then we backtrack down the road, following the path James Kim took as he set out on his last chance for help.

HELLER: He's thinking the only thing he can do is to go find help. He left his family with every bit of food that they had in the vehicle. He was focused entirely on what is best for his family, what's going to increase the odds that his family is going to survive.

GRIFFIN: And that focus would be the only thing keeping him alive for the next two days. James Kim presses on, but soon makes another fateful decision.

HELLER: Mr. Kim walked from his vehicle three miles uphill, and for whatever reason, he decided that he was no longer going to walk on the road, and he went off the roadway, into the drainage. There is a creek down there. He continued down the creek bed several more miles. GRIFFIN: Fighting through the harsh, slippery terrain in tennis shoes, two pairs of pants and a coat, James was able to cover an unimaginable 16 miles well ahead of his trackers.

HELLER: That is just very, very nasty terrain down in there. Mr. Kim was going from one side to the other. He was going through the water, trying to work his way downstream.

There were many times that our searchers were -- while they were trying to follow him, they could not figure out how he had got from one point to another.

GRIFFIN: But James was leaving clues to help searchers track him.

HELLER: Looks like it's part of a skirt.

GRIFFIN: As we retrace James Kim's journey, Sergeant Heller continues to find more evidence Kim was leaving a trail.

HELLER: It is a wooden teething ring. Says "haba." H-a-b-a.

It appeared that he was leaving these clothing articles to, you know, to mark his trail.

GRIFFIN: At this point in the search, Heller and other rescuers still had hope.

HELLER: My gut feeling was that he's alive, he is cognizant. He's doing his best to make sure that we can find him.

GRIFFIN: Did you have hope?

HELLER: Yes. At that point, definitely definitely had hope.

GRIFFIN: But they were still far behind.




ZAHN (voice-over): After nine days stranded in the snowy mountains of southern Oregon, Kati Kim and her two children are safe.

For Kati's father, Phil Fleming, the news is bittersweet.

FLEMING: It was just unbelievable joy to have my three girls back. That joy, however, is tempered over our concern about James.

ZAHN: Ill-equipped to deal with the elements, James Kim set out on foot two days earlier to find help, taking with him just two lighters, a flashlight and an extra pair of pants.

ANDERSON: We are going to continue to look until we find James. We are operating on the assumption that he's still alive. And we're going to try to find him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are going to have to follow the creek, or hop the creek and go over here, where they can walk. And I don't know if they can, because no one's ever been there.

ZAHN: Rescuers traced his footprints.

ANDERSON: We brought in a specialist for -- a man tracker that we can put in, see if we can find his footprints, and continue to work that out.

We're continuing to work it today. If we don't find him today, we'll continue to search tonight, and we'll do it again tomorrow.

ZAHN: The James Kim story becomes national news.

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: The search for a man missing in the Oregon wilderness.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: He had sneakers, he had two pairs of pants, and a heavy sweater.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An emotional discovery in the Oregon wilderness.

ZAHN: But for friends and family, the coverage is difficult to watch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The story got bigger and bigger. And it's like now to a point where you can't get away from it.

ZAHN: His plight draws volunteers from the entire region. The rescue mission intensifies on the ground and in the air.

ANDERSON: We have approximately four helicopters up in the air. Three of them are from -- have been contracted by the family. We got one from the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.

ZAHN: But it's James himself who gives the search teams hope. Rescuers find the clues he's left behind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A blue girl's skirt and pieces of an Oregon state map that were sort of cut up. And these, according to the information I have, were sort of placed, again, with our belief that little signs are being left by James for anyone that may be trying to find him.

ZAHN: With hopes high, Spencer Kim puts together 18 care packages for his missing son.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These packages are going to be transported by helicopter. They're going to be strategically dropped along the area.

ZAHN: Each package contains food, warm clothing, and a personal note: A father's plea to hang on, help is on the way.

But it's already too late. Around noon on Wednesday December 6th, an air rescue team makes a grim discovery.

ANDERSON: At 12:03 hours today, the body of James Kim was located down in the Big Windy Creek.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Kim was located down in the area where the search activity was occurring. Arrangements are being made to have him removed from the area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have hope. You put somebody in there and you don't give up on it. You go to the bitter end with it. And you know, when they announced it, it was pretty quiet in my aircraft.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Something that really touched you?


ZAHN: It's a heart-wrenching conclusion.

ANDERSON: Most of us have breathed and lived this for days. And, yes, you do take it personal. And it's been tough.

ZAHN: The news is heard a world away in San Francisco.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's so smart, and I thought for sure that he had done something to keep himself in good shape. But I just -- I guess it was just too much. I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When that press conference started and they announced they had found the body of James Kim, it just hit like a ton of bricks. And you didn't want to believe that he hadn't made it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any child would be so lucky to have a father like James, who was unbelievably involved.

ZAHN: James Kim, father and husband, had hiked more than 16 miles through brutal terrain before freezing to death. A state trooper called his journey super human.

But as you'll soon find out, there are sad ironies in James Kim's heroic track.



ZAHN (on camera): James Kim's tragic story is fascinating because there are some ways it might have ended differently. Just like it is for all of us, life is filled with coincidences, choices made that could have gone a different way, leaving all of us wondering what if?


ZAHN (voice-over): James Kim: smart, methodical, technologically savvy. He and wife Katie, devoted to each other and their daughters. Qualities friends and family figured would pull them through this ordeal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are very smart people. You know, they're not going to, like -- they're going to try to do whatever is possible to, you know, make it out.

ZAHN: His wife and daughters were found in time. But James' death leaves behind a trail of agonizing what-ifs. What if vandals hadn't cut a lock and left open the gate blocking the logging road?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Had this gate been locked, the Kims would have come to it and been forced to turn around. So if it had been locked, we'd have had a different story.

ZAHN: What if, after leaving his family, he had kept walking on the road instead of veering off into the canyon?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He would have got back to Bear Camp Road. At Bear Camp Road he would have had a high likelihood of being able to flag somebody down and get help.

ZAHN: What if James Kim had taken more than just the flashlight and two lighters with him? What if James Kim, a self-described gadget geek, had GPS, a navigation device in his car? Experts say it may have helped.

And what if he had stayed with his family? Ironically, his cell phone would have saved his life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Edge Wireless put a gentleman over here. It was through his computer model that we were able to locate a cellular tower hit that concentrated the search in the Bear Camp area.

ZAHN: But in the end, James Kim's footprints saved his family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Apparently the private helicopter pilot that actually saw them said he tracked Mr. Kim's footprints in the snow to this location. And he said he had picked the footprints up back on this road and tracked the prints back out here to the vehicle.

ZAHN: James Kim's story: five days in the frozen wilderness, a 16 mile hike in sneakers, came so close to a happy ending.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So I want to make sure that's clearly understood. They did nothing wrong. James Kim did nothing wrong. He was trying to save his family.



© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines