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A Tragic Lesson in Survival

For the last week, I have been completely preoccupied by the heartbreaking story of the Kim family from San Francisco and the tragic discovery that the father died of exposure and hypothermia while seeking help for his family in Oregon.

Last week, CNET senior editor James Kim bravely set out on what his wife Kati described to authorities as an heroic last resort to save her and their two young daughters. After running the car for heat and running out of gas, then burning all four tires, James set out for help on a 10 mile trek through rugged, snowy terrain. Sadly, his path led him in a near circle—his body was recovered only one-half mile from the family car.

I cannot stop thinking about what I would have done. Of all the times I have been lost or made a wrong turn—one especially frightening time when I was traveling alone in India, and another during a riot in Western Africa—I have been so phenomenally lucky to return home safely.

I also cannot imagine the conversations that took place between James and Kati Kim during their nine days of being stranded. With only berries to eat, in freezing temperatures, and under extreme duress, would I have recalled my wilderness survival skills from my NOLS mountaineering semester, or even have been able to keep my wits about me while trying to reassure to young children? Would my husband and I have stayed together in the car, or would we have been so desperate as to seek help separately?

According to survival experts, adults have a tendency to follow water when lost, believing that it will flow into a larger place where there might be help. This is often a fatal mistake, as one risks getting damp and wet, which can result in hypothermia. Incredibly, children instinctively head to higher ground to understand where they are in the context of their surroundings. This tends to be what keeps them safe.

CNN correspondent Rick Sanchez says we need to remember the rule of threes:

1. You can survive for three hours without shelter.
2. You can survive for three days without water.
3. You can survive for three weeks without food.

In other words, shelter is key to survival. What would you have done? What other survival tips can you share here?


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