December 10, 2006

Staying alive

The sad death of James Kim in the southern Oregon mountains has a lot of people talking about car survival kits. The Denver Post had a piece on Saturday, too.

I think Kim made the wrong choice in leaving the vehicle, but I can easily understand why he did so. After nearly a week of not being found, the mental pressure to do something must have been overwhelming.

When I read that searchers found an item of his clothing, however, I knew he was a goner, no matter that some reporters tried to interpret it as "leaving a signal for rescuers."

My indoctrination came at an early age. Some time before I was born, around 1950, I think, my father was part of a recovery team on a plane crash near Wolf Creek Pass in southwest Colorado.

He was then Forest Service district ranger at Del Norte, on the Rio Grande National Forest, so the crash site was either on his district or close by.

During the winter, two men had left Gunnison (as I recall), flying west. They failed to make it over the mountains. One was a doctor and one a businessman, I think.

Their bodies and the airplane were not located until the snow had started to melt. They had crash-landed in a snowy meadow without damaging the plane very much.

Dad had saved photos of the crash site, the plane, and the bodies. Occasionally as a kid I would take them out and look at them for the shudder of horror.

The bodies were quite well-preserved. One man, as it was reconstructed, had taken a drink of whiskey and then tried to walk for safety. He was wearing low-cut shoes, a suit, and an overcoat. He made it a mile or so. The other was found closer to the site.

Two mistakes, then: no survival gear and leaving the shelter of the airplane. I would never forget that lesson.

Oh yes, and save the whiskey for when you are warm and dry.

Addendum: For an interesting discussion on whether James Kim was a "hero" or not, go here and read the comments.


Rana said...

Yes, I had that same thought when they found the clothing. I figured he'd gotten into that state of hypothermia where people take off their clothes, because they feel "hot."

(I came here on a recommendation from jo(e).)

Anonymous said...

Staying with the car is not always the best option.

In 1994, DeWitt Finley was stranded in his truck in the snow in the same region of the Siskiyou mountains. He died after 54 days of sitting in his truck waiting for help (he kept a journal and wrote letters while stuck in his truck.) His body was found four months later, so staying with you car is not always the best answer.

Chas S. Clifton said...

I am aware of the Finley case, but as I recall, he just sat and waited for God to take him.

Consider these:

1. A car or airplane gives you resources: shelter, insulation, fuel for fires (gas and oil), plus other things such as mirrors that can be ripped off and used for signaling.

2. A vehicle is easier to spot from the air than a person or footsteps in the snow.

3. The members of the Kim family who stayed in the car were rescued.

4. Unless you know exactly where to go and are equipped for the trip, leaving the vehicle is generally a bad idea.