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Femina Potens: Kati Kim breaks her silence to tell a story of survival. (Part 1 of 2)

Kati%20Kim%20and%20family.JPGOn Saturday, 25 November, 2006 Kati Kim, her husband James and their two daughters were traveling home after having spent the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday in Seattle, Washington. They were on their way to the Tu Tu Tun Lodge, located near Golden Beach, Oregon, when they missed their turnoff from U.S. Interstate 5 onto Oregon Route 42. Instead of turning back, James and Kati decided to take a secondary route which they believed would lead them to the Oregon coast and their destination.

Soon – due to high snows and increasingly bad weather – the Kim family found themselves stranded in a remote area of southwestern Oregon; though, both Kati and James believed their location to be mere miles from the nearest town and that imminent help would arrive to assist them.

This was not to be the case.

Read Kate Kotler's exclusive interview with Kati Kim after the jump!

On 30 November, 2006 a co-worker of James Kim filed a missing person's report with the San Francisco police department when Kim, a senior editor at CNET, failed to return to work or answer phone calls at his home. Due to Kim’s highly regarded status within the world of technology journalism it was only a short time before the news of the missing Kim family had captivated audiences both within and beyond the San Francisco Bay Area.

A massive search effort – including more than 80 civilian volunteers, the Oregon National Guard, local and state police and private helicopters hired by the father of James Kim – began in the hopes that James, Kati and their daughters Penelope and Sabine would be found safe and alive. At the same time the traditional and online media exploded with progress reports and speculations about what had become of the San Francisco family.

On 4 December, 2006 – nearly ten days since the Kims had first become stranded – independent helicopter pilot, John Rachor, spotted Kati and her daughters alive on a remote road. He radioed their location to authorities and Kati, Penelope and Sabine were airlifted to a nearby hospital.

After Kati recounted to authorities that her husband had set out on foot from their stranded car several days prior in the hopes of finding help, the search efforts resumed to find James.

Sadly, on 6 December, 2006, James Kim’s body was found in Big Windy Creek several miles from where the Kim’s car had been stranded.

In the days, weeks and months following her ordeal and rescue, Kati Kim has avoided speaking to any member of the media.

When I was thinking of strong women to interview for this column, Kati was one of the first names which popped into my head. I do not know her personally – we are loosely connected via a similar group of friends from the review website Yelp – however, after following her story last year and her Yelp reviews since, she just epitomized the type of women whose story I’d like to share on Femina Potens: Strong, independent, soulful… a survivor. In the face of unbelievable tragedy she has managed to remain positive and strong.

So I took a chance and asked her if she would be willing to speak with me. Stating that she has a “weakness for women who share her initials,” she agreed to chat with me via phone about her experiences while stranded in the wilderness, her husband, her life after her rescue and what it means to be a strong woman.

Kate Kotler: Surrounding your ordeal in 2006 there was a blitz of media coverage; following the rescue of yourself and your daughters, you have been reluctant to speak to the media – would you be willing to share your thoughts as to why you’ve decided not to share your story?

Kati: My first reaction to your interview request and questions was “Woah,” I haven’t answered any questions to anyone in media. And, I haven’t been contacted by anyone in the media for a while now. Maybe for a month or so; and, then just today a television show from New Zealand contacted me - “Survivor” – from New Zealand… it was surreal.

While we were lost it took so long to find us; and, we knew after a certain point that there was going to be media attention, even if it was just local. It was an obvious conclusion that James and I came to. No one could have predicted how big the story was going to be. When the girls and I were first rescued there was an Oregonian cop who advised me not to speak to the media. She said “We’re going to have to sneak you in past the media [into the hospital.] Don’t talk to anyone.” The more that I understood what was going on, the more I believed that she was right; and, that it was a good idea for me not to speak to the media at all. Then in the hospital I saw so many friends, family members talking about us and it was surreal. I thought that there is no way that I’m going to go on a talk show and cry, and… I don’t want to do that, what’s the point? My kids have been totally exposed; and, there were pictures of us that were stolen and published. It was surreal seeing our faces on the cover of People magazine. When I got home I found that there was media crawling around my house… And, they were harassing the people who worked for me at Doe SF and Church Street Apothecary – who were all being so protective of us. I just didn’t want to, you know…

KK: I can completely understand that given all you’d been through.

Kati: So, after a while all I wanted was to be anonymous and normal… it was just not the right time to tell the story.

KK: Do you have plans to tell your story?

Kati: Totally, definitely – it was just such a huge deal – people are making a lot of money off my family’s tragedy. I mean, I don’t know… I just want to do it in a way that I’m not going to be ashamed of for the rest of my life. I feel like I need to do it in a way that James would be proud of. I don’t know, maybe, I’d like to write it as a book. Mostly, I think that I want to talk about how great James was, how much he loved his family; [and, I’m afraid] people wouldn’t believe it. I think our story touched a lot of people. I want people to know that this is just the way that James loved his family. I think it would do him justice.

KK: During the week that you, James and the girls were stranded what thoughts did you focus on to give you strength and help you remain positive about your eventual rescue?

Kati: For the first few days it was unimaginable that we wouldn’t get rescued right away. We didn’t have any idea how far away we were from… For the first three days we honked our horn a lot, we thought we heard snowplows in the distance. It was inconceivable we wouldn’t be rescued right away. People had to be coming. We had absolutely no idea where we were and how far away we were.

KK: What about as time wore on and it became apparent rescue wasn’t imminent?

Kati: We told a lot of stories, sang a lot of songs, we played hangman. I mean it was pretty bleak, it wasn’t fun, you know? It was pretty scary and it was definitely inconceivable to us that it would take so long to be found. We had a survival plan to keep us alive as long as possible.

KK: What did you think about after James left the car on 2 December, 2006?

Kati: When he left we wrote a plan, we wrote him a timetable. He said, “If I don’t find help within this period of time I will turn around.” He had bright stuff for marking the trees and a mirror to signal a helicopter. Until he didn’t come back that night, I had just thought – hoped - he would come back… He said, “I’ll come back with Cokes and chocolate.” He was completely determined to find us help and he had a map with him.

KK: When he didn’t return that night what did you start thinking about?

Kati: That he had died. Something had to have happened to him, he would never leave us in a million years. He would never leave his family alone. The rest of the time we were stranded he would give us his coat to keep us warm and stay up all night rubbing our feet.

He would have never left us – he was determined to help his family – I knew there was something really wrong. We were all really weak, there was no way he could have survived. And, I knew that either there was going to be bright lights and a truck and him rescuing us or… He would never in a million years leave us. He would have made sure we were found.

The next day when he didn’t come back I tried to hike out for two and a half hours. I left a note on the car that said, “James left at 7:45 am yesterday morning, he didn’t come back. I’ve taken the girls and have tried to hike out;” and, I wrote the direction we were hiking in.

KK: You tried to hike out? That’s incredibly brave. What made you turn back to the car?

Kati: Yeah, I – we – left the car and tried to hike out. Then I started having crazy delusions about drinking grapefruit juice; and, it seemed so real that I realized that it just couldn’t be real. I thought that I was really weak and that my electrolytes were messed up; and, that no good could come of it, so I turned around and headed back to the car.

Next week: Kati talks about remembering James Kim; and, life after the rescue of herself and her daughters.


Interview conducted 12 September, 2007

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Posted by on September 23, 2007

Comments

oh, i wish there was something i could say to adequately let kati know how much my heart was broken when james did not make it back. we sat in our home and pulled for him, watching the coverage as though we were next door neighbors or family, hungry for information. it was such a tragedy. i am convinced, however, that she and the girls will find a fulfilling life ahead, a life filled with love and new adventures and all the wonderful things that bring magic into our lives. i am glad she plans to tell her story and do hope she chooses to do a book soon, when the time is right for her. it will be cathartic, helping in the healing process, i imagine. best wishes to you, kati! what a strong and brave woman!

Posted by: sky | September 24, 2007 3:17 AM

Thanks for your nice comment, Sky. I know Kati is very moved and appreciative of all the good juju, love and support that the world has sent to her in the past year.

Thank you for reading!
Kate

Posted by: Kate Kotler | September 24, 2007 3:42 AM

I am so sorry for your loss. We think and speak of you, James, and your family often.
While we drove through the Willamette Forest for hours this summer we spoke constantly about you, and your ordeal. I continue to think of James as a hero, a strong powerful man who loved his family and would not stop to get them help no matter what. He remains an inspiration to me and Ruth.
For whatever it is worth when we travel we bring survival gear in case the worst happens.
We live in the forest here in Corbett, Oregon and when I am in the woods I think good thoughts about a person I never met...James, and you and your family.
We wish you Peace.

Posted by: Gerard and Ruth | November 14, 2007 6:45 PM

I don't know the Kim family personally, nor do I feel like I know them through all the immense media coverage over the past year. However, my heart has, and will always be open to the Kim family. What James Kim displayed while his family was stranded is nothing short of heroic. I can't imagine how tough of a decison it was for Mr. Kim to leave his family in order find help, but I understand it's what had to be done. Being stuck for nine days Mr. Kim did what any loving, caring, and brave father would do, and that's put his family first. It brings my heart deep sorrow to even think that anyone would even question Mr. Kim's decison to leave and find help. I'm not in any position to say how we should all remember James Kim, but his actions on that cold December morning is the reason I will always remember Mr. Kim as a hero, and I hope nobody ever forgets that. Kati, My wife and I continue to pray and think about your family. I wish you and your girls the best of luck. Thank you for being so strong.

Ryan Connell- Portland, OR

Posted by: Ryan Connell | November 14, 2007 7:09 PM

It can be extremely difficult to find anything positive with circumstances like this, but bearing witness to Kati's strong love for her husband and her family is a very sweet and remarkable thing. I live in Portland, and everyone here was absolutely riveted by this story when it was happening last year. I can honestly say that most seemed to be genuinely concerned about the people involved, not just engaged by the spectacle of it. Sometimes positive things do grow from sorrowful beginnings, and I know this had a profound reach on me for months after and it still does. I don't know if it eases Kati's pain at all to know that there are people she's never met who still think about her and James' ordeal -- and that those thoughts lead us to be thankful for each day we have on Earth with the people we love. I hope it does. A million hearts must have broken last year when this happened. I hope a million hearts healing and wishing the Kim family the best can be felt, too.

Posted by: Oregon girl | November 14, 2007 11:57 PM

Dear Kati, I'm still after all these months very sad about the loss of you brave husband. The story of your family's disappearance and your rescue and the death of your husband really did rivet everyone to the radio and TV for many days as we thought about the wild wilderness of our state-the wilderness we love but have grown to approach with great caution. How could you possibly know what could happen? Our state will have to take a closer look at the signs and the safety measures in place for all citizens and keep in mind the out of state citizens who visit us in Oregon. I am so deeply touched by the bravery of your husband and yourself and of course your children too@ You are a true hero. Linda Sneed

Posted by: Linda Sneed | November 15, 2007 3:10 AM

Dear Kati, I'm still after all these months very sad about the loss of you brave husband. The story of your family's disappearance and your rescue and the death of your husband really did rivet everyone to the radio and TV for many days as we thought about the wild wilderness of our state-the wilderness we love but have grown to approach with great caution. How could you possibly know what could happen? Our state will have to take a closer look at the signs and the safety measures in place for all citizens and keep in mind the out of state citizens who visit us in Oregon. I am so deeply touched by the bravery of your husband and yourself and of course your children too@ You are a true hero. Linda Sneed

Posted by: Linda Sneed | November 15, 2007 3:10 AM

I will never forget the Kim family and there ordeal. I live in St. Helens, Oregon so I watched much of the search for James on live T.V. I was just standing in my kitchen watching this unfold and praying that they would find him alive. As a mother of a young family myself, I felt such empathy for Kati. She must be an incredible person to be able to hold it together enough to survive and save her babies after James was gone and obviosly in trouble. I am sure it is that same strength that has gotten her through this year. Thank god that Kati and her girls were found in time and James didn't die in vain. They will always know that thier daddy loved them more then anything.

Posted by: Karen | November 15, 2007 3:27 AM

I live in Southern Oregon and had a friend in my Anatomy and Physiology class who was on the support team for search and rescue and when she came back to class she said "we're going to find James TODAY" and we all cheered and clapped and crossed our fingers she was right. The next day James was found but the outcome was totally devastating. We were so wrapped up in this here in S.OR and wanted desparately for them all to be found. We can celebrate the life of Kati and the kids thankfully. My friends and I all stocked our cars and trucks after that, what an eye-opener. My deepest regards to Kati,

Beth

Posted by: Beth | November 16, 2007 1:49 AM

I too was deeply heartbroken by this ordeal and will forever remember and pray for the James Kim Family - Not a month goes by that I have felt deep sorrow for the hero father that set out to save his family. Thank you for sharing and god bless!

Posted by: Sarah | November 22, 2007 3:02 AM

I too was deeply heartbroken by this ordeal and will forever remember and pray for the James Kim Family - Not a month goes by that I have not felt deep sorrow for the heroic father that set out to save his family. Thank you for sharing and god bless!

Posted by: Sarah | November 22, 2007 3:03 AM

Kati, never has a news story broke my heart and touched me like your family's story has. My own family is similar in that I am a Caucasian woman married to an Asian man with two daughters the same ages as yours. When Sam was found, I felt like I had lost a member of my own family. He was a good man who obviously loved you guys so much. Your story will forever be with me. Because of you, I now keep survival gear stocked in my car year-round. You and your girls will always in my thoughts and prayers. Thanks so much for breaking your silence and sharing more of your story with us.

Posted by: Mendi | November 27, 2007 6:22 AM

I'm so sorry. I meant James (not Sam). I feel terrible calling him the wrong name--I didn't catch my error until it was too late.

Posted by: Mendi | November 27, 2007 7:11 AM

A year past, we do not forget. You touched our hearts, and we hope that yours can somehow heal over time. Your tragedy brings reality to us and appreciation of our own lives every day. Find peace and the strength within.

Posted by: J | December 28, 2007 7:53 AM

Kati. Peace to you and the girls. Much love from L.A.

Is there a part 2 to this?

Posted by: Bx | January 25, 2008 5:13 PM

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