A 66-year-old Tacoma man lost for two days in blizzard conditions on Mount Rainier stunned rescuers Monday afternoon by turning up alive and alert despite having minimal gear.
“I think it’s fair to say this is miraculous,” said park spokeswoman Lee Taylor.
Yong Chun Kim was leading a snowshoe hike above Paradise on Saturday afternoon when he slid down a steep slope. Rather than climb back up, he told the group of 16 hikers that he would rendezvous with them lower down the trail.
When he didn’t return to Paradise, the National Park Service launched the search Saturday at 3 p.m. He was found Monday at about 1:40 p.m., Taylor said.
Kim’s family and friends were following the search from Longmire and, Taylor said, appeared to be preparing themselves for the worst.
“As soon as we heard he was alive, my sister, his wife, praised God and said ‘Hallelujah,’” Kim’s sister-in-law, Sang Soon Tomyn told The Associated Press. “We were so worried. We prayed every day.”
Taylor was in the incident command post when the garbled message of Kim’s rescue came across the radio. She described the reaction of those in the room as “stunned disbelief.”
While searchers were hopeful, they also knew that prolonged searches in severe conditions don’t often have happy endings. A two-day search last month ended in the same area with the discovery that a 54-year-old snowshoer from New York had died, likely of hypothermia.
“We’re so thankful for the community and for everyone who was willing to volunteer to help find him,” Tomyn said. “It’s dangerous rescue work. But we really appreciate it.”
Malcom An, son of Yong Chun Kim, said in a statement, “ We all recognize that this was a miracle from God, but clearly, a miracle assisted by his good people.”
Kim, who has been snowshoeing for more than a decade, survived blizzard conditions, drifts of new snow as deep as 30 inches in some places, temperatures in the teens and wind gusts up to 50 mph.
“He is pretty tough to be able to make it,” Taylor said. “And very resourceful.”
Kim reportedly didn’t have backcountry gear or experience and details of how he survived weren’t yet known Monday night.
About 90 searchers from around the state helped the park service during Monday’s search. The big breaks in the search came Sunday when members of the hiking party led searchers back to the place where Kim fell, and backcountry campers found tracks leading into the Stevens Creek drainage.
Kim was found at about 6,400 feet on the upper drainage by two members of the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol led by Rainier ranger Jordan Mammel.
Rescuers evacuated Kim on a litter down the drainage to the Stevens Canyon Road, which is closed for the winter. He was then taken by snow cat to the open portion of the road below Paradise, where his family planned to be waiting. He was expected to be taken to a hospital Monday night, Taylor said.
Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol director Paul Baugher said he sent four patrollers on the busy Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to help with the search. Everett Phillips and Pat Fleming were with Mammel when they found Kim.
For Phillips, a first-year patroller from Maine, it was his second potentially lifesaving find of the weekend.
On Friday night at 8:30, Baugher received a call that a skier had not returned after closing at Crystal. Phillips, who also works as a climbing ranger at Yosemite National Park, discovered ski tracks in the south backcountry, said assistant ski patrol director Brent Okita, and was part of a team of about eight people who found the skier near Crystal Lakes, injured and shivering.
“He was hypothermic,” Baugher said Monday via cellphone from Reno. “He would not have survived the night.”
The skier was carried out of the backcountry by 6 a.m. and by then Fleming was helping with the rescue too.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Baugher said. “I can’t remember back-to-back situations like this that ended happily.”
Stefan Lofgren, head of Rainier’s climbing program, said another backcountry party was overdue by 24 hours Monday night. It could be the initial stages of another search and rescue effort, he said.
Craig Hill: 253-597-8497 email@example.com