'20/20' Exclusive: Kati Kim on Her Family's Harrowing Ordeal

In "20/20" exclusive, mom shares story of being stranded with kids in mountains.

ByABC News
February 10, 2011, 12:28 PM

Sept. 18, 2011 — -- It was a story that touched everyday Americans and prompted the biggest search-and-rescue mission in Oregon's history: The disappearance of the Kim family.

The Kims went missing on Thanksgiving 2006. Husband James, wife Kati and their two young daughters, Sabine and Penelope, had been on a road trip when a wrong turn left them desperately lost in the Oregon wilderness.

"Sabine is seven months old and Penelope is four, so we're just really worried about the kids," James Kim's sister, Eva Kim, told the media at the time.

Watch a special two-hour episode of "20/20" tonight at an earlier time, 9 p.m. ET for more on Kim's story.

After nine days, the Kims' car was spotted from the air. But for the family that had captivated the nation, it was no happy ending.

In an exclusive television interview with "20/20", Kati Kim recounted her family's harrowing ordeal.

Kati Kim was a 21-year-old student in Seattle when she met James Kim, 26.

"I took a road trip to Northern California with some college friends and it was then that I met James," she said. "He was the cutest thing I'd ever seen in my entire life. We got matching tattoos and that was pretty much how we met. We were inseparable after that."

The couple married in Las Vegas in 1999 and later had two daughters.

Michael Burke, a friend, said they were very happy.

"They were always looking to do something better, to be something better," he said. "They had dreams. They had lots of big dreams, and they were very proactive in making those dreams come true."

James Kim worked as a technology reporter for CNET while Kati Kim managed two small shops in San Francisco. For family vacations, the Kims liked to hit the road.

"We were always going on road trips with the girls," Kati Kim said. "We tried to just include them in everything that we did."

Just before Thanksgiving, 2006, the Kims decided to go on a holiday road trip together.

The Kims left San Francisco on Friday, Nov. 17, and headed north.

"We had been considering moving out of San Francisco for a long time and both Portland and Seattle were options," Kati Kim said.

But, she added, the main motivation for the trip "was to spend Thanksgiving with family."

The Kims did just that, spending a happy holiday with family and friends in Seattle, including Michael Burke.

"We had a great time. Everyone was happy," Burke said. "They looked a little tired from travelling but they had plans for the rest of their trip and then continued down [highway] I-5 to Gold Beach."

The Last Supper

Facing a five-hour drive to Gold Beach, 140 miles away on the Oregon coast, the Kims stopped at a Dennys in Roseburg, Ore.

"James wanted to order french fries and I told him no, because we had been eating travelling food for so long," Kati Kim said. "And so I made him order a side of steamed vegetables instead of the french fries."

Little did the Kims know at the time, it would be their last supper together. (CLICK HERE to see photos.)

After dinner was behind them, the Kims got back on the road, with James Kim behind the wheel and Kati Kim playing the role of navigator.

Driving into the night, the Kims made the first of several fateful errors. To get to Gold Beach, they needed to take Route 42 via exit 119. They missed it.

One mistake turned into two: Instead of turning around, the couple decides to take another road that Kati Kim spotted on a map.