In February 1959, nine young Russian hikers were found dead in the northern Ural Mountains in mysterious and unexplained circumstances in a place known today as The Dyatlov Pass, named in honor of one of them, and an event that would be later known as the Dyatlov Pass Incident.
A doomed journey
The group, consisting of eight experienced hikers, many from the Ural Polytechnical Institute, began their journey on January 23, led by a 23-year-old hiker named Igor Alekseyevich Dyatlov. The course went according to plan until February 1, when the group deviated from the planned route, and entered the nameless pass, difficult and dangerous, reaching the coast of a nearby mountain, Kholat Syakhl, also known as “Dead Mountain” by the indigenous Mansi people of the region, as shown by the recovered journals.
The group was expected to return to Vizhay on February 12, which never happened, but the search did not begin until February 21.
The first clue that helped find the hikers but also raised questions was their tent, half-collapsed, on February 26. What was strange about it was not only the fact that their clothes were inside, along with the food supplements, arranged as if they were preparing to eat, or the nine pairs of shoes, arranged near a wall, but the fact that the tent was almost destroyed, and cut from the inside, as if something had scared the climbers so hard that they fled in the cold storm outside, in the dark, almost naked and barefoot, although they were very experienced and perfectly aware of the consequences. The tracks found near the tent led to the edge of a forest, a mile away.
The first bodies found were those of Yuri Krivonischenko, 23, and Yuri Doroshenko, 21, next to what appeared to be a small fire, under a cedar tree. Although the temperatures were well below zero degrees, the two men were found barefoot and almost naked.
Investigators said the cause of death was obvious, and that everyone died of hypothermia, but that doesn’t explain why Doroshenko was “brown-purple” in the complexion, why and what was the grey foam coming from his right cheek and the grey liquid coming from his mouth, and why the branches above the two hikers were broken and their hands scratched as if they were desperately looking for shelter in the tree. Besides these, Doroshenko’s ear, nose, and lips were covered with blood and Krivonischenko had portions of the epidermis from the right hand found in his mouth. They were almost completely naked because, as it was later discovered, the other climbers took their clothes to keep themselves warm.
The next bodies were those of Igor Dyatlov, Zinaida Kolmogorova, 22, and Rustem Slobodin, 23, who appeared to have died while trying to find their way back to the tent from the cedar tree.
What caught the attention was Zinaida, found face down, with the skin on her face and hands being purple-red, with missing pieces of skin on her hands, and a long bright red bruise (29×6 cm) on the right side of the torso.
Slobodin, who, besides having severe wounds to his hands and feet, also had strange injuries to the head. Although the wounds on the hands and feet can be explained by a fall, this does not explain the wounds on the head, which were bilateral and very serious. It is also very strange that these wounds were not present behind the head (in case of a fall), and also not caused by anyone else, given the fact that the skin was in good condition, only the skull was severely affected. Another strange thing was the ice bed formed under Slobodin, which suggests that he was still alive when he fell there, and that body heat melted the snow.
Another body that was found with severe but inexplicable head injuries was Nikolai Thibeaux-Brignolles, 23. Vozrozhdenny, who undertook the autopsy, excluded accidental fall as a possible cause for such a massive and unusual fracture. When he was asked what could have caused such injury, he said: “I don’t believe these injuries could have been the result of Thibeaux-Brignolle simply falling from the level of his own height, falling and hitting his head. The extensive, depressed, multi-splintered (broken fornix and base of the skull) fracture could be the result of an impact of an automobile moving at high speed.”
Then, we have the deaths of Lyudmila Dubinina, 20, and Semyon Zolotaryov, 38, that “had major chest fractures that could only have been caused by an immense force comparable to that of a car crash”, but also of Alexander Kolevatov, 24, that had “lack of soft tissues around eyes, eyebrows are missing, skull bones are exposed”. Another thing that captured the attention was that the overall skin had “a gray-green color with a tinge of purple”.
When it comes to Lyudmila and Semyon, the situation got even harder to explain. Besides the major chest injuries, that led to multiples ribs being broken and flail chest, the eyes of both were missing. The young man also had “missing soft tissues around the left eyebrow, bone is exposed” and an “open wound on the right side of the skull with exposed bone”.
Finding Lyudmila’s body raised even more questions about what could have caused these deaths. Her body was found on her knees, her face and chest pressed against a stone. She had the most wounds on her face, such as “soft tissues are missing around eyes, eyebrows, nose bridge, and left cheekbone are partially exposed”, “eye sockets are empty, eyeballs are missing, nose cartilages are broken and flattened”, or “soft tissues of the upper lip are missing, teeth and the upper jaw is exposed, the tongue is missing”, but also “massive hemorrhage in the heart’s right atrium”. The autopsy also revealed that “the stomach contained about 100 g of dark brown mucosal mass [ed. – often misquoted as coagulated blood]. It is used by some as an indication that the heart was beating and the blood was flowing when the tongue was removed from a mouth.”
Another thing that remains unexplained is the fact that radioactive traces were found on Kolevatov and Dubinina’s clothes.
Theories claim that what made the climbers flee from the tent, almost naked, in the cold outside, is hypothermia and its effects, which lead to irrational thinking. Also, when the victim approaches death, it feels as if he is overwhelmed by the heat, and hence the explanation of the missing clothes. But some of the climbers tried to keep warm by trying to light a fire, some made a bed of twigs to keep out the cold of the snow, and others, who survived longer, took their clothes from those who had already died, covering especially the parts of the body most exposed to frostbite, which shows that they were thinking clearly and logically.
In order to explain the chest injuries caused by an immense force, the investigators also brought the avalanche variant, which could have caused such injuries and which would have answered the reason why the climbers fled the tent, unprepared, but at that time no avalanches were recorded on that side of the mountain.
Some claim that the hikers were killed by a radioactive weapon after entering government territory made for testing, but the autopsy showed that, for this to be the cause of death, the amount of radioactive substance found should have been much higher.
On one of the cameras, investigators found an image of light spheres, which could have scared the hikers and made them run away from the tent to find shelter, but that does not explain the fact that they left their clothes and shoes behind. They were experienced, so aware of what would happen if they did that, and yet they came out. Lev Ivanov, the chief investigator of the Dyatlov Pass Incident, said for a newspaper in 1990: “I suspected at the time and am almost certain now that these bright flying spheres had a direct connection to the group’s death”. He was forced later to withdraw these speculations by secrecy in the USSR.
Other theories are related to: Controlled environment (KGB), Mistaken for Gulag fugitives, Radiosondes, Special forces, Mansi, Shrooms, Secret launches, Infrasound, Yeti, Teleportation experiment, Gravity fluctuation, Wolverine, Methanol poisoning and Arctic hysteria (meryachenie).
The case was closed after a short time, and the blame for what happened was given to the negligence of the hikers, although many questions remained unanswered, and the public was forbidden to know more details. In 2019 the case was reopened with the hope that they will be able to discover more with the new technologies that were not present back then; but they had as main theories only the avalanche, a snow slab, and hurricanes. In an interview for The Atlantic, Dyatlov’s sister, Tanya P., said that at the time of her brother’s death, her parents strongly believed the military was involved, despite all the theories she heard so far. The case was closed again, after a short time, after no new evidence was found to clearly decide what happened, so the case remains unsolved, even now, after more than 60 years, with people having only the theories which could explain what happened to the nine hikers in the place known today as The Dyatlov Pass.