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Coroner: Kim died of exposure, hypothermia

Story Highlights

James Kim walked 10.24 miles in rough terrain to seek help
Kim, 35, died of exposure and hypothermia, authorities said
CNET editor's body found about a half mile from his family's car
Kati Kim and daughters had just set out on foot when they were found
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MERLIN, Oregon (CNN) -- CNET editor James Kim died of exposure and hypothermia as he sought help for his snowbound wife and children, authorities said Thursday.

But a coroner in Oregon could not determine exactly when the father of two died.

After waiting a week for rescue, burning car tires for warmth and having little to eat besides berries, the couple decided they had no other choice but for James Kim to venture out Saturday for help, Kati Kim told authorities. (360° Blog: What would you do?)

He faced the unforgiving wilderness of Oregon's back country wearing only street clothes. (Watch police describe how Kim was found -- 1:56 Video)

Calling his trek "superhuman," officials said the 35-year-old walked 10.24 miles before he collapsed, authorities said. (Watch officer's emotional reaction Video)

On November 25 the Kims had begun a drive home to San Francisco, California, after a Thanksgiving vacation in Oregon.

They missed a turn and found themselves stranded in snow and lost on one of Oregon's treacherous mountain roads -- an area that is rarely plowed during the winter.

At some point, James Kim tried to back up the car to where there was less snow to block them. But snow was falling so fast and furiously that he had to open his door to see, authorities said.

Over the next few days, the snow and rain fell unrelentingly, Kati Kim told searchers.

The family ran the car sporadically to keep warm as temperatures dipped below freezing at night.

After running out of gas, they set a spare tire on fire and eventually burned all four tires for warmth. When the weather let up briefly, they burned magazines and driftwood.

The Kims fed their children baby food and crackers. Kati Kim, nursing 7-month- old Sabine, also breast-fed her 4-year-old daughter Penelope.

Before James Kim left his family, he built a fire for them. He put on a pair of sweat pants over his jeans and set out.

He encountered what searchers would later describe as rugged, steep, snowy terrain with sodden branches, slick rocks, downed trees and poison oak nestled between sheer cliffs.

Despite those conditions, authorities said, he covered about 10 miles before succumbing in the ravine where rescuers found his body on Wednesday about noon (3 p.m. ET).

"It seems superhuman to me that he was able to cover that amount of distance given what he had and also that he had nine days in the car" before setting out, Josephine County Undersheriff Brian Anderson said.

"I'm amazed," searcher Robert Graham told reporters. "We spent hours down there and made very little distance. ... The conditions were very rough. It's been cold. The terrain is so rugged, just spending one day out here is very exhausting."

Kati Kim and the couple's daughters were found Monday when searchers saw her waving an umbrella. She had just set out on foot when they were found, authorities said.

The three spent a night in the hospital and were released Tuesday.

An arduous and determined trek

Using a map, authorities showed that Kim had headed south and west before entering the drainage area and following it eastward -- back in the direction of the family's car.

Authorities tracked him by following his footprints in the snow.

Before locating his body, rescue workers said they had found what they believed was a trail of clues from James Kim, including three shirts, a wool sock, a blue girl's skirt and pieces of an Oregon state map.

Kati Kim had told authorities her husband had taken the items with him when he left their car.

Operating on the assumption he might still be alive, searchers had dropped care packages in the area.

Kim's body was found about a half mile south of the family's car at the foot of a huge cliff, authorities said.

"It appears to me he was highly motivated, and he knew what he was doing, coming down [the drainage area]," Anderson said.

Authorities were not sure why Kim chose that route, he said.

A deputy found a message written on white paper on the road, Anderson said, describing the note as an SOS saying the family had been stuck since the Sunday after Thanksgiving and that two children were in the car.

"Please send help," it said. Authorities are not sure which of the Kims had written the note, Anderson said.

A note was also found in the car. It was written by Kati Kim and indicated where she and the children were headed.

'James Kim was a hero'

The news that James Kim was found dead left searchers "devastated," said Anderson, who grew emotional while telling reporters of the discovery. "I'm crushed."

Kim was a senior editor at CNET Networks.

"This has been a heart-wrenching experience for everyone involved," CNET CEO Neil Ashe told reporters. "I know that I speak for everyone at CNET Networks when I say that James Kim was a hero, and we will miss him greatly."

He said the company would do all it could to assist Kim's family and honor his memory.

Searcher Joe Hyatt told reporters the rugged terrain of Oregon can be deceiving to those who are unfamiliar with it.

"When you're up in the mountains, it all looks nice and peaceful," he said.

Of Kim, Hyatt said, "I can only describe him as an extremely motivated individual. I would describe him as a true hero."

Wednesday evening, Scott Nelson Windels, a friend of the Kims, issued a statement thanking the searchers and others involved in the incident.

"We want to send out our utmost thanks to the search and rescue teams who risked their lives in the efforts to bring James back to us, they are true heroes to risk their own lives for a stranger," it read.

"Please continue to keep Kati, Penelope, Sabine and the rest of their family in your thoughts."

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