James Kim’s death in the middle of the Oregon mountains has sparked a flurry of speculation as to why they took a one lane road through the mountains instead of one of the larger highways. A new report sheds light on the fact that the Kim family was using a Internet-produced map to select their route over the mountain pass in Oregon.

Some short looking routes on Internet maps may actually be seasonal, very dangerous, and just flat out wrong. For example, I remember when the Internet maps first came out and that they would advise you to take Tioga Pass out of Yosemite to head to Nevada even though everyone knows that it is closed during the Winter months. Had the Kim family taken a major Oregon State Highway like Highway 38 or 42 or 199 across the mountain range they were trying to cross, James Kim would be alive today.

Amazingly, Kim’s wife and kids were found because their cell phone acted like a beacon while searching for a carrier signal. This tragic story makes one wish that services like OnStar were available on all cars. The Kims would have been able to “call” for assistance immediately after their car got stuck because OnStar works via satellite. Instant happy ending. An expensive tow for sure, but everyone lives.

Another option would have been to subscribe for satellite emergency service which is now as little as $350 annually–less than $1 per day plus the cost of a phone. Satellite phones are about $750 new and about $350 used. Sure it’s $1.49 per minute of airtime, but somehow I don’t think the Kim’s would have been worried about the cost!

This ultimately may be the best solution for most people, because who wants to have a late model GM car nowadays. Simply throw a satellite phone in the trunk, a car charger, and pony up $350 each year and you won’t need a vehicle equipped with OnStar. These phones should start selling like hot cakes. I can see the pitch now, “avoid freezing to death in backcountry roads for less than a dollar a day!”

All kidding aside, the good news is that with advancements in technology what happened to James Kim will likely to be a thing of the past. Cars will probably all have satellite emergency services and most cell phones will all have a satellite option to get people out of life threatening situations like this one. One can only hope anyway.


  1. Or, for $128 you can get a personal EPIRB. Duct tape a spare set of batteries to it. Link.

    #1 by Larry — December 7, 2006 @ 2:47 pm

  2. How does this work? As soon as you turn it on someone comes looking for you? Or does someone have to be looking for you for them to find you? Particularly on land like James Kim and his family?

    #2 by Nugget — December 7, 2006 @ 4:12 pm

  3. It transmits on an international emergency frequency, which is continuously monitored by satellites. If you can find a place that’s not entirely covered over by trees, you’re golden.

    #3 by Larry — December 7, 2006 @ 4:15 pm

  4. That’s pretty sweet! No two way communication, but a guaranteed rescue in a crunch. How long do you think the Kims would have been out there if they had turned on an EPIRB? One or two days, or more?

    #4 by Nugget — December 7, 2006 @ 11:39 pm

  5. Figure they would have waited awhile before firing it up. Then, a couple hours before a satellite gets the signal. Then, I think you’ve got to figure that even with a signal, you start at dawn and it takes hours. The sad part is that it sounds like the Kims were totally smart — parking in an intersection with a view of the sky, burning tires to make a smoke signal. How can you do better than that?

    #5 by Larry — December 8, 2006 @ 9:28 am

  6. I guess the only thing that James Kim could have done better is to hike only on roads and stay on high ground when he went to get help. Hiking next to a stream makes sense in theory because it will get you off the mountain. You’re basically following a path down dictated by gravity. But surely you’ll get a little wet along the way and end up like he did in extremely cold conditions.

    #6 by Nugget — December 8, 2006 @ 9:54 am

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