The Dyatlov Pass incident (Russian: Гибель тургруппы Дятлова) refers to the mysterious, unsolved deaths of nine ski hikers in the northern Ural Mountains on February 2, 1959. The area in which the incident took place was named Dyatlov Pass in honor of the group’s leader, Igor Dyatlov.
On the 25th of January 1959 a group of ten people set off for a ski trek across the northern Urals in Sverdlovsk Oblast. Mainly made up of students and graduates of Ural Polytechnical Institute, the original group was led by Igor Dyatlov and consisted of eight men and two women.
The goal of the expedition was to reach Otorten (Отортен), a mountain 10 kilometres north of the site of the incident. This route, in February, was estimated as Category III, the most difficult. No one was concerned as all of the groups members were experienced in long ski tours and mountain expeditions.
The party took a truck to Vizhai (Вижай), the last inhabited settlement that far north. They started their march toward Otorten from Vizhai on January 27. The next day, one of the members, Yuri Yudin, was taken ill and was forced to return. the remaining group of nine people continued the trek.
Before leaving, Dyatlov had agreed he would send a telegram to their sports club as soon as the group returned to Vizhai. It was expected that this would happen no later than February 12, but Dyatlov had told Yudin, before his departure from the group, that he expected to be longer. When the 12th passed and no messages had been received, there was no immediate reaction, delays of a few days were not unusual with expeditions like this one. As the days went on people became more and more concerned for the group. Why hadn’t the expected telegram been received?
It wasn’t until the relatives of the travelers demanded a rescue operation that the head of the institute sent the first rescue groups, consisting of volunteer students and teachers on the 20th of February. Later, the army and militsiya forces became involved, with planes and helicopters being ordered to join the rescue operation.
On February 26th, the searchers found the group’s abandoned and badly damaged tent on Kholat Syakhl. The campsite baffled the search party. Diaries and cameras found around their last campsite made it possible to track the group’s route up to the day preceding the incident. On January 31, the group arrived at the edge of a highland area and began to prepare for climbing. In a wooded valley they cached surplus food and equipment that would be used for the trip back. The following day on the first of February the hikers started to move through the pass. It seems they planned to get over the pass and make camp for the next night on the opposite side, but because of worsening weather conditions, snowstorms and decreasing visibility, they lost their direction and deviated west, up towards the top of Kholat Syakhl. When they realised their mistake, the group decided to stop and set up camp there on the slope of the mountain, rather than moving one and a half kilometers downhill to a forested area which would have offered some shelter from the elements. It was postulated that Dyatlov probably did not want to lose the altitude they had gained, or he decided to practice camping on the mountain slope.
“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.” – Mikhail Sharavin, the student who found the tent.
Investigators said the tent had been cut open from inside. Eight or nine sets of footprints, left by people who were wearing only socks, a single shoe or were even barefoot, could be followed down toward the edge of a nearby woods, on the opposite side of the pass one and a half kilometers to the north-east. However, after 500 metres these tracks were covered with snow. At the forest’s edge, under a large cedar, the searchers found the visible remains of a small fire, along with the first two bodies, those of Krivonischenko and Doroshenko, shoe-less and dressed only in their underwear. The branches on the tree were broken up to five meters high, suggesting that one of the skiers had climbed up to look for something, perhaps the camp. Between the cedar and the camp the searchers found three more corpses: Dyatlov, Kolmogorova and Slobodin, who seemed to have died in poses suggesting that they were attempting to return to the tent. They were found separately at distances of 300, 480 and 630 meters from the tree.
Searching for the remaining four travelers took more than two months. They were finally found on the 4th of May under four meters of snow in a ravine 75 meters farther into the woods from the cedar tree. These four were better dressed than the others, and there were signs that those who had died first had apparently relinquished their clothes to the others. Zolotaryov was wearing Dubinina’s faux fur coat and hat, while Dubinina’s foot was wrapped in a piece of Krivonishenko’s wool pants.
A legal inquest started immediately after finding the first five bodies. A medical examination found no injuries which might have led to their deaths, and it was eventually concluded that they had all died of hypothermia. Rustem Vladimirovich Slobodin had a small crack in his skull, but it was not thought to be a fatal wound.
An examination of the four bodies which were found in May shifted the narrative as to what had occurred during the incident. Three of the ski hikers had fatal injuries: Nicolai Vladimirovich Thibeaux-Brignolles had major skull damage, and both Lyudmila Alexandrovna Dubinina and Semyon (Alexander) Alekseevich Zolotaryov had major chest fractures. According to Dr. Boris Vozrozhdenny, the force required to cause such damage would have been extremely high, comparing it to the force of a car crash. Although notably, the bodies had no external wounds related to the bone fractures, as if they had been subjected to a high level of pressure.
Major external injuries were found on Dubinina, who was missing her tongue, eyes, part of the lips, as well as facial tissue and a fragment of skullbone. She also had extensive skin maceration on the hands. It was claimed that Dubinina was found lying face down in a small stream that ran under the snow and that her external injuries were in line with putrefaction in a wet environment, and were unlikely to be related to her death.
There was initial speculation that the indigenous Mansi people might have attacked and murdered the group for encroaching upon their lands, but investigation indicated that the nature of their deaths did not support this hypothesis; the hikers’ footprints alone were visible, and they showed no sign of hand-to-hand struggle.
Although the temperature was very low, around −25 to −30 °C with a storm blowing, the dead were only partially dressed. Some of them had only one shoe, while others had no shoes or wore only socks. Some were found wrapped in snips of ripped clothes that seemed to have been cut 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 travelers.
The tent had been ripped open from within.
The victims had died 6 to 8 hours after their last meal.
Traces from the camp showed that all group members left the campsite of their own accord, on foot.
To dispel the theory of an attack by the indigenous Mansi people, Dr. Boris 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.
At the time the verdict was that the group members all died because of a compelling natural force. The inquest officially ceased in May 1959 as a result of the absence of a guilty party. The files were sent to a secret archive, and the photocopies of the case became available only in the 1990s, although some parts were missing.
Of course there are many theories as to what could have led to the parties mysterious ends but they are only theories. Some believe that they were caught in an avalanche, although evidence argues that this was unlikely and it certainly wouldn’t explain why some were wearing the clothes of members who died first. Some suggest paradoxical undressing, in which hypothermic subjects remove their clothes in response to perceived feelings of burning warmth. Although this sounds plausible, it would be a mystery how this could effect the whole group at the same time. The mysterious force leads many to believe that they encountered extraterrestrial beings or some sort of cryptid creature. Some also believe that the military may have been involved, perhaps conducting a lethal experiment. The true cause remains a mystery to this day.
What do you think happened to this highly experienced group? A fatal mistake? A dangerous encounter? Comment below…
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