The Dyatlov Pass incident. A mystery unsolved
Between 1st and 2nd February 1959, nine Russian hikers died in the Northern Ural Mountains mysteriously from unknown circumstances. The group members had a lot of experience in hiking. They were from Ural Polytechnical Institute. The campsite on the slopes of Kholat Syakhi, which they established a camp is now named after their leader, Igor Dyatlov as an honour.
After the discoveries of the bodies, Soviet authorities conducted an investigation which revealed that six of the members died from hypothermia. The other three showed signs of physical trauma. One body had a fractured skull. Other two had major chest fractures and both eyes were missing on one of the two. One body had a missing tongue. The investigation concluded by stating that a “compelling natural force” as the cause of deaths. Since then, Various theories have been proposed as the cause of death. Some of them are animal attacks, hypothermia, avalanche, katabatic winds, infrasound-induced panic, military involvement, or some combination of these.
The group was formed on the same year for a skiing expedition across the northern Urals in Sverdlovsk Oblast, Soviet Union. Igor Dyatlov was a 23-year-old radio engineer at Ural Polytechnical Institute. He is the one who assembled the group of nine others for the trip. Most of them were fellow students of the university. The group consisted of eight men and two women. The group was an experienced grade, 2 hikers, with ski tour experiences. They expected to achieve grade 3 certification upon their return. This grade 3 was the highest certification available in the soviet union at that time. The certification required the candidates to travel 300 kilometres. The goal of the expedition was to reach Gora Otorten, a mountain 10 Km north to the incident site. This route was a very difficult one which was estimated as category 3.
They began the journey on 27th January towards Gora Otorten from Vizhai. On 28th, Yuri Yudin, one of the members suffered from severe knee and joint pain and turned back discontinuing the trek. The other nine continued the journey.
Diaries and cameras were found around their last campsite. This made it possible to track the groups route up to the day of the incident.
View the camera films here from the bellow link.
31st January – Group arrived at the edge of the highland area and prepared for climbing. They cached food and equipment that would be used for the trip back in a wooded valley.
1st Feb – Hikers started to move through the pass. Seems like they planned to get over the pass and make a camp on the opposite side for the next night. But because of severe weather conditions, the journey deviated to the west towards the top of Kholat Syakhl. After realising the mistake Dyatlov and his team decided to stop and set up a camp there on the slope of the mountain. But if they move 1.5Km downhill to the forest area, that would have offered some shelter from the bad weather. Yudin stated that “Dyatlov probably did not want to lose the altitude they had gained, or he decided to practise camping on the mountain slope”.
Dyatlov had told that he would send a telegram to their sports club as soon as the group returned to Vizhai. This was expected by 12th Feb. But Dyatlov told Yudin before his departure that this would be longer than expected. So even when 12th passed without news there was no immediate panic. Delays were common with such expeditions. On 20 Feb a rescue operation was sent due to the demands made by relatives and families of travellers. This rescue operation consisted of volunteer students and teachers. The military became involved later. Planes and helicopters joined the rescue operations.
26 Feb – Searchers found the group’s abandoned tent which was highly damaged on Kholat Syakhi. The campsite confused the search party. Mikhail Sharavin the student who found the tent said. “the tent was half torn down and covered with snow. It was empty, and all the group’s belongings and shoes had been left behind”. The investigators found that the tent has been cut open from the inside. There were 8 or 9 sets of footprints left by people who were only wearing socks, only a single shoe or barefoot. These led down towards the edge of the woods on the opposite side of the pass 1.5km northeast.
However, after half a kilometre these tracks were covered with snow. At the edge of the forest, under a large Siberian pine tree, there were remains of a small fire. There were the bodies of Krivonishenko and Doroshenko, without shoes and only in their underwear. The branches of the tree were broken up to a five-meter height, indicating that one of the group climbed up to look for something. Between the pine and the camp, the corpses of Dyatlov, Kolmogorova and Slobodin were found. Their final poses implied that they were trying to return to the tent. Their distances to the tree were 300, 480 and 630 meters.
Corpses of the other four travellers took more than 2 months to be found. They were found on 4th May under 4 meters of snow in a ravine. The location was 75 metres further into the woods from the pine tree. Three of the four were better dressed than the others and there were signs that those who had died first had their clothes relinquished to others. Dubinina was wearing Krivonishenko’s burned, torn trousers and her left foot and shin were wrapped in a torn jacket.
Forensic investigations started immediately after the first 5 bodies were discovered. A medical examination found no injuries that might have led to their deaths. The conclusion was that all died of hypothermia. Slobodin had a small fracture in his skull which can not be considered a deadly wound.
Bodies found in May changed the narrative of what occurred during the incident. Three of the bodies had fatal injuries. Thibeaux-Brignolles had major skull damage. Duninina and Zolotaryov both had major chest fractures. The force required to cause such damages should be very high and equivalent to a car crash, according to Boris Vozrozhedenny. The most important thing is that the bodies had no external wounds associated with bone fractures. It seemed that they have undergone a high level of pressure.
All the four bodies which were found at the bottom of the creek in a running stream of water had soft tissue damage in their head and face. For instance, Dubininas tongue, eyes, part of lips and facial tissue were missing. Skullbone was fragmented. Zolotaryov had missing eyeballs. Aleksander Kolevatovs eyebrows were missing. The forensic expert who did the exam was V.A. Vozrozhedenny. He determined that these damages happened after death due to the location of bodies in a stream.
Initially, it was suspected that indigenous Mansi people attacked the group because they invaded the lands. Several people were interrogated. But the investigations indicated that they were not involved due to the facts that only the footprints of hikers were visible and there were no indications of a struggle.
Despite the temperatures being as low as -25 to -30 in Celcius, and a storm blowing, the dead were only partially dressed. Some of them had only one shoe, some had no shoes, some only wore socks, some were found wrapped in snips of ripped clothes that seemed to be taken from those who were already dead.
Journalists reporting on the available parts of the inquest files claim that it states:
- Six of the group members died of hypothermia and three of fatal injuries.
- There were no indications of other people nearby on Kholat Syakhl apart from the nine travellers.
- The tent had been ripped open from within.
- The victims had died six to eight hours after their last meal.
- Traces from the camp showed that all group members left the campsite of their own accord, on foot.
- High levels of radiation were found on only one victim’s clothing.
- To dispel the theory of an attack by the indigenous Mansi people, Vozrozhdenny stated that the fatal injuries of the three bodies could not have been caused by another human being, “because the force of the blows had been too strong and no soft tissue had been damaged”.
- Released documents contained no information about the condition of the skiers’ internal organs.
- There were no survivors of the incident.
The case finally got wrapped up due to the absence of a guilty party. The verdict was that all died of natural causes. The files were sent to a secret archive.
The group’s diaries were made public in 2009.
Read them in bellow link.
In Feb 2019 Russian authorities reopened the investigation. However, the possibility of a crime is not anticipated. Only 3 possibilities are being considered: an avalanche, a snow slab avalanche or a hurricane.
12-year-old Yury Kuntsevich, who later became the head of the Yekaterinburg-based Dyatlov Foundation (see below), attended five of the hikers’ funerals. He recalled that their skin had a “deep brown tan”.
Another group of hikers (about 50 kilometres (31 mi) south of the incident) reported that they saw strange orange spheres in the sky to the north on the night of the incident. Similar spheres were observed in Ivdel and adjacent areas continually during the period from February to March 1959, by various independent witnesses (including the meteorology service and the military). However, these sightings were not noted in the initial investigation in 1959, and these various independent witnesses only came forward years later.
Due to the public interest in the case, There’s a dedicated website for the case. Those who are interested to know more about the case in detail can visit https://dyatlovpass.com/page.php?language_id=1&id=12786 . This web site provides some more interesting theories about the case. Autopsy reports and evidence such as photos and videos can be viewed through the site.