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James Kim

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An Oregon law enforcement official got choked up today when he announced the dreaded news: James Kim - who had left rescuers a trail of clues after setting out into the rugged,icy Oregon mountains to find help for his stranded family - was found dead.

At 12:03 p.m. the body of the San Francisco man was found in the steep narrow canyon where searchers had followed his trail, said teary-eyed Josephine County Undersheriff Brian Anderson ,surrouned by dozens of reporters. He could not continue talking. That's when Lt. Gregg Hastings stepped in.

Hastings said of the family "They have been true champions throughout this ordeal. Our thoughts and prayers have been with them from day one." Kim's wife and two daughters were found on Monday. Kim 35, had set out Saturday morning away from wife and kids in their car to search for help. He promised to return by 1 p.m. that day, four nights passed in which temperatures dropped into the 20s, in the remote, rugged Big Windy Creek drainage. The area is off Bear Camp Road, 30 miles west of Grants Pass.

Rescue efforts had been hampered by thick fog, steep, icy terrian and dense brush. About 100 rescuers, 25 at the bottom of the ravine, took on the search. They had followed his trail of footprints in the snow down a steep hillside to the Big Windy Creek. Along the way, searchers were led by a trail of clothes that appeared to be left there by Kim as markers, including his four year old daughter's bright, blue skirt. Authorities believe he was following the creek in hopes of finding civilization.

"We think he had a plan. He possibly thought the river might lead him to a safe place or to the Rogue River -- where he thought possibly that he could be seen and bring help to his family."

Earlier in the day, the family had provided 18 care packages with warm clothing, food and letters to Kim that helicopters planned to drop into the steep canyon where rescue workers believe he wandered during his four nights lost in the freezing Oregon mountains.

A pair of pants, torn pieces of a map, two long-sleeve shirts, a red short-sleeve shirt and two skirts appear to be marking Kim's trail along a shallow riverbed.

The first clue, the pants were found on the snowy ground Monday, a few miles from were his wife and two young daughters were rescued from their stranded car that same day.

One helicopter, paid for by the family, had planned to drop the packages including a letter from Kim's father.

Winter described the letter as "a father's plea to his son to let him know that they are coming."

Overnight heavy fog crept into the big windy canyon, where the search had been focused, blocking the full moon. A helicopter searched using thermal heat technology to try to find the 35-year-old Kim, an editor at CNET in San Francisco.

Crews had been following Kim's footprints in the snow since Monday. The trail goes off a paved road and down into a steep drainage. The search was "extremely challenging" because of the rugged terrain and dense brush.

Crews had to climb over fallen trees and traverse the shallow creek by jumping from rock to rock as they trek across the creek bed.

Published in San Jose Mercury News on Dec. 6, 2006
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