Obviously, the death of CNet editor James Kim — who had spent days trying to find help for his family, stranded in deep snow in a remote valley in Oregon — is a tragedy. But it shouldn’t be blamed on the use of Google Maps. I’ve seen a few sites where that issue has been raised, including the Lost Remote blog and a Wired blog.
This is apparently based on the fact that the Kims took a forest-service road through the Oregon wilderness — called Bear Camp road — that is not plowed or maintained in the winter, took a wrong turn and got lost. According to a local news report, authorities speculated that the Kims might have used Google Maps, since both Yahoo Maps and MapQuest suggest other routes but Google recommends Bear Camp road.
On the Lost Remote blog, one commenter even asks whether a mapping service can be found legally responsible for leading people astray. A CNN story, however, notes that even some printed maps don’t specify that the Bear Camp route is not suitable for winter driving. According to the story, the 2005-2007 state highway map has a warning in red print that says “This route closed in winter,” but a Rand-McNally map doesn’t.
State troopers said the family had been using a printed map, but it wasn’t clear which one. This story says someone warned the Kims that the road was not maintained in winter (Shelley has also written about it). The bottom line is that the Kims could easily have found themselves where they were without being lured there by an online map. Whenever a tragedy occurs, the tendency is to want to find someone to blame, but Google is the wrong target.
More info on the mapping issue can be found here, here and here (thanks to Mike Pegg of Google Maps Mania for those links). And please read the comments here for some other perspectives and clarification. And according to this story, while the surviving members of the family were rescued by a helicopter hired by the family, they were first spotted by a recreational helicopter pilot who knows the area well.
James Kim’s father Spencer Kim has written an op-ed piece for the Washington Post about his son’s death and the problems that led up to it — from road warning signs being removed and gates left unlocked to media helicopters disrupting the search.