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It’s been about 11 years since tragic circumstances dealt a harsh blow to a California family stranded in the snowy mountains of Oregon.

When there’s no cell signal, a personal locator beacon (PLB) can contact rescue personnel via satellite technology.

When there’s no cell signal, a personal locator beacon (PLB) can contact rescue personnel via satellite technology.

CNET Editor James Kim and his wife, Kati, along with their two children, had been visiting their friends on Thanksgiving. They said their goodbyes and started their drive home. That was when they encountered trouble on the road.

After taking a wrong turn, they ended up on a road that was rarely used and was reported to be on Bureau of Land Management land. Unfortunately, as they tried to back up off the road, their vehicle became stuck in the snow.

Thanks to a winter storm that moved in, it continued to snow and rain for the next several days, making for treacherous conditions. It not only cut off any way to get out but also wiped away any trace of their passage through the area.

What made the situation even worse was that they could not get a cell signal to make a phone call for help, although they did send out a couple of text messages (which can sometimes get through when calls can’t). This fact helped the wife and two daughters later in the story.

The Kims were stranded in the car without adequate supplies and had very little to get them through. They ran the car intermittently to keep it warm inside but eventually ran out of gas. After that, they took to burning the tires to generate enough heat to keep them warm.

Food supplies were slim to none, and the family ate crackers for a short while. Then, things became so desperate that Kati Kim breastfed her 4-year-old daughter, along with her 7-month-old daughter, as the days drew on. At this point, things were looking grim. James, the patriarch of the family, decided to head out and try to retrieve help for his family.

Clad only in tennis shoes and street clothes, James built a fire for his family and then struck out to find help. Meanwhile, rescuers were trying to ascertain their whereabouts via computer sorting of text messages against cell towers. Unfortunately, they did not arrive before James’s demise.

After arriving on the scene and seeing the signal Kati Kim used—an umbrella—the rescuers finally touched down. Some immediately took off to track James Kim to see if they could find him in time. They tracked his route, which turned out to be 10.3 miles long.

Along the way, rescuers found several clothing items. Some opined that he was leaving them behind as clues, while others thought he had become more and more disoriented in the last stages of hypothermia. Either way, he was not prepared for the harsh winter weather in the mountains of Oregon and succumbed in his effort to save his family.


This is a sad story, but it does serve as a cautionary tale for those who will be traveling this winter. Whether you’re driving to a hunt or just a holiday dinner, it makes sense to have the correct and adequate supplies on hand for everyone who will be in the vehicle.

Aside from a typical survival kit, along with a knife and other tools that one would have in the wild, being prepared for this type of emergency is a bit different, because not all people involved will be skilled or old enough to “make do” with what’s on hand.

Here are some suggestions to consider for winter traveling— especially when wearing only street clothes:

  • For rural areas where a cell signal isn’t available, having a satellite connection via an emergency personal locator beacon can make all the difference for a speedy rescue.
  • Keep a week’s worth of everyone’s medication in the glove box and rotate it out at the end of the season.
  • Keep a supply of winter clothes on hand for each person, including thermal underwear, insulated hats, winter coats and pants, insulated boots and mittens.
  • Keep enough heavy wool blankets in the vehicle to cover everyone and keep them warm.
  • A three- to five-day supply of food will not only help with hunger pains; it can also warm up the body as it is digested.
  • Have extra water. It’s just as important as during the summer months.
  • Have a pot to collect and melt snow, if necessary.
  • Have multiple ways to start a fire (matches, lighter, ferro rod, etc.)
  • Keep coffee, tea or hot cocoa on hand to help warm the body.
  • Don’t let your gas tank get below half full before refueling.
  • Keep flares and flashlights/headlamps with extra batteries on hand for visibility and signaling.
  • Windshield scraper/brush
  • First aid kit
  • Maps
  • Tool kit for those with a little car repair knowledge (including passersby)
  • Jumper cables
  • Battery-operated radio for news and weather reports
  • Vehicle fire extinguisher
  • Shovel for clearing around the car
  • Tire traction mats
  • Tow straps

Not all of these items are absolutely necessary for winter driving; they are suggestions to get the thought process started. It’s a matter of storage space, skill level and personalization.

Nevertheless, no matter what, having a plan and taking even a few steps to protect you and your loved ones are great steps in the right direction.


Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the November 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.