First, some bona fides: your blogger has been a member of two different search and rescue teams in two different parts of the country, and has the excellent DOD Winter Land Survival course under his belt, so I'm not talking through my hat here.
The deceased Mr. Kim, known now in every corner of the country for getting his family stuck on a summer-only road in the winter, and having the trip turn into a lethal (for him) survival exercise, WAS NOT A HERO.
The press, and especially the Oregon State Police's PIO, Lt. Gregg Hastings, needs to stop lauding him to the skies.
Here is a short, and probably incomplete list of his failures:
- A computer wizard, he nevertheless trusted an in-car GPS navigation system known to have a flaw of failing to account for the class of a highway when recommending a route of travel to the operator. Since his geek specialty was evaluating consumer computer electronics, he should have known this flaw.
- He set out on the cross-wilderness trip without clearly telling anyone what his route was, only giving a rough time when he was supposed to be in Roseburg, OR, his destination.
- He depended on cell phone communications, but never turned around when they weren't available in the mountain wilderness.
- He failed to equip his vehicle for the trip. He lacked the required traction devices, any and all of which are legal to use in Oregon.
- He failed to brief himself on the elevation of the mountain roads he was to traverse.
- He failed to brief himself on the weather forecast, which had been broadcast as low-elevation snow for the previous week, and maybe the previous 10 days by NOAA.
- He failed to have a proper on-board winter survival kit.
OK, those are just some of the mistakes he made BEFORE HE EVER LEFT SEA LEVEL at Gold Beach. If he had just showed his gizmo-planned route to any of the locals on the coast, any of them would have advised him that anything less than a 6X6 army Deuce, with full 6 wheel chains, wouldn't make it.
WHAT DOOMED MR. KIM IS THAT HE NEVER ASKED A LOCAL PERSON ABOUT THE ROUTE.
So, he sets off up into the mountains. He makes a few more mistakes:
- Almost immediately out of Gold Beach, he is on US Forest Roads. That should have told him something. They also have US Forest Roads in CA, and most of them become impassable in the winter, at those elevations.
- The road climbs, and he runs into snow conditions. There are NO signs telling him that he has just crossed a summit, in fact, there are many snowy summits to cross on this route, and he hasn't gotten to the top of the first one yet. Time to turn around, BUT HE DOESN'T.
- The road quickly deterioriates in class and quality. It started at sea level as a two-lane blacktop highway, but then became two-lane partially-paved, then unpaved one lane with turnouts. At some point, he want through at least one open gate, and actually changed from the main road to a secondary logging road, BUT HE KEPT GOING.
Mr. Kim now gets stuck in the snow. he has no idea where he is, and his cell phone has no signal. He is now in a survival mode, with his wife, an infant and a toddler. He does a few things right from this point, but mostly he doesn't, and he eventually dies. Here's what he SHOULD HAVE DONE:
- Once you make the decision you are in a survival situation, you need to put a survival plan into place. At a minimum, your plan (under winter conditions) needs to consider keeping warm, keeping hydrated (can't keep warm while dehydrated) and communicating with potential rescuers. Food isn't important, since you can live for at least a week without it, if you are hydrated and warm. Some have lived 30 days without it.
- First thing: the communications. You have to do it while you have the strength. On a snow-covered road, you have to build tree-limb contrast signals to alert aircraft. You have to keep those signals contrasty by periodically shaking the snow off the darker boughs. You need to set an instant flare-fire up. Not light it, you do that when you hear an aircraft, you set it up for instant lighting with flares, fuel or somesuch. A "tree-torch" is best, that is, you find a smallish evergreen with dying or dead needles on it, and build your pre-fire under it. When you touch it off, the tree bursts into flame immediately, and pours black smoke (good contrast) into the sky, and a tower of flame erupts as well, very visible to aircraft even miles away. You won't burn the forest down, all the other trees have snow on them, and the rescuers are trained to look for these signals.
- You collect firewood, methodically. You collect far more wood than you think you will ever burn, and you start a sheltered fire that will not blow out, AND YOU TEND THAT FIRE. You don't stay out in the cold with that fire, you are going to stay in the car since it protects you from the wind, but you keep the fire going because it makes an INFRARED SIGNATURE. That signature can be seen by search aircraft (the Army Reserve up here flies an aircraft that is designed to look for the heat signature of a clothed person, and it will see anything making more heat even better). It will probably NOT see the heat signature of a few bodies in a snow-covered car.
- You make it a religion to keep warm. You don't get out and wander around just "to keep the blood stirring", since every time you get out of that car, you get cold, and the cold will kill you, eventually.
- You keep your mind active, and you keep discussing your situation with your mate. You never give up, you discuss every little thing.
At some point, Mr. Kim decided he was going to trek out for help. Had he known where he was, seven miles from a summer fishing lodge, he could have walked down there, found the lodge on the shore of the Rogue River, got in, fired up the stove, got some hot liquids and food imto himself, and hiked back up the mountain for his wife and kids. They would all be alive today, because the searchers in the jet boats would have found them.
Kim's decision to trek out killed him. After trekking an amazing 16 miles in poor condition, he came to his end, having walked a circle back to within almost shouting distance of his car. He did all the supposedly "right" things, he walked downhill, and followed drainages. He was within yards of the mainstem Rogue River when he died. He was within seven miles of that summer lodge when he died.
THE MAN DIED BECAUSE HE HAD NO CLUE WHERE HE WAS. HE SHOULD HAVE NEVER STARTED OUT ON HIS TREK.
All those who are apologizing for his death need to realize that he killed himself, he brought the whole situation on himself.
What do we have today that makes us different from generations before us?
INFORMATION. This is the Information Age. The Information that would have saved Mr. Kim would have been on a Forest Service Map, sold for a nominal charge at any Forest Service office, of which there is one in Coos Bay, near to where he left. The other information is the local type, which is what all the generations before Mr. Kim had to rely upon. He never consulted any of that information. The last bit of information is in the form of high-tech communications. If Mr. Kim really wanted to be a cross-country navigator, he needed a satellite phone. If he had one, he would have never gotten wet or cold, but could have whistled up some help long before the gas tank in his vehicle ran dry. Being a consumer electronics whiz, he had to know about SatPhones.
Mr. Kim just didn't think, and so he died, and almost killed his whole family.
And some still call him a hero?