By Phuong Le Associated Press
SEATTLE — A snowshoer who was lost in a blizzard for two days on Washington state’s Mount Rainier said he stayed alive by digging out a snow tunnel and burning his paper money for warmth.
Yong Chun Kim, 66, of Tacoma, told KOMO-TV of Seattle that he had fire starters with him and first burned some leaves. Then he started burning personal items: his socks and then $1 and $5 bills from his wallet.
Kim, who served in the South Korean military in the Vietnam War, told the station that skills he learned as a soldier helped him survive.
Kim also said he marched in place to keep warm and took cover in a tree well — the hole in the snow under a tree. He fought off sleep but dreamed of his wife and a nice hot sauna.
“I found a big tree and got inside” the well, he said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I’m worried. It’s cold, so I want to move around.”
He initially made a shelter near a big rock and tried to stay warm. He tried to keep walking, but at times “the snow was so deep, I couldn’t breathe.”
He made a fire, drank hot water and ate rice.
The first night was bad, said Kim’s stepson, Malcolm An. “He could have died. He was walking around, struggling to find a place, literally not knowing where to go.
“He burned everything he had,” An said. “He burned his toothpaste, Band-Aids, extra socks. He burned whatever he could.”
Kim, a U.S. citizen for 30 years, was leading 16 members of a hiking and climbing club from Tacoma on Saturday when he slid down a slope and became separated. He thought he would meet up with the group farther down the trail but became disoriented and went the wrong way.
After falling Kim had radioed to his group twice, telling them he was OK and would meet up with them later. When he didn’t show up at the parking lot Saturday afternoon, a search was launched.
Kim lost his radio as well as his glove and ski pole when he fell a second time.
He was about a mile from where he was last seen when he was found Monday by a ranger and two Crystal Mount Ski Patrol members.
“He’s so lucky. It’s a blessing and a miracle. That team was amazing,” An said. “They had a plan, they were ready to go.”
Kim was in such good shape that when he was found, he did not have to go to a hospital and instead went home with his family.
Kim served in the Vietnam War for the Republic of Korea and has been a U.S. citizen for 30 years. He told KOMO skills he learned as a Korean soldier helped him survive.
After rescuers reached Kim it took nine hours to bring him from the rugged terrain covered in deep snow to the Paradise visitors’ center, a popular destination at 5,400-feet elevation on the mountain’s southwest flank, about a 100-mile drive south from Seattle.
The winter weather prevented a helicopter from being used in the search and rescue. Temperatures were in the teens during the two nights Kim was outside, park spokeswoman Lee Taylor said.
“He was determined,” An said. “He kept saying, he is not going to die unless God thinks he should. All he did was try to survive.”