2 February 1959, a group of nine ski hikers in the Russian Ural mountains died in a most bizarre fashion. Killed by what, no one is sure. There were no eyewitnesses, all of those present died in an unnamed pass on the eastern side of the mountain Kholat Syakhl, a Mansi name meaning mountain of the dead. After the incident the pass collected a name for itself, Dyatlov Pass after the group leader Igor Dyatlov.
The whole thing began with ten people, 8 men and 2 women took the journey. In the depths of winter the group planned to traverse the northern Ural mountains and arrive at Otorten, a mountain only 10km from Dyatlov Pass. The majority were students and graduates from the Ural Poly-technical Institute, all experienced in mountains expeditions and the suchlike, with good reason, for in those harsh conditions the route was considered category III, the hardest type of passable route. On 27 January they left from Vizhai, the most northern inhabited settlement in the region. All was well until the next day when the Yuri Yudin fell ill and went back to Vizhai. The other nine carried on to their deaths.
Piecing together diary entries and rolls of film it is possible to deduce that they went on for the next 4 days with little of great import or note occurring, they were just having a jolly romp through the snow and wind blasted Russian mountainside. Then there was a little blip on February 1st, rather unpleasant weather such as snowstorms and general low visibility severely impaired their progress. The group lost their way and instead of going over the pass and setting up camp they wandered westwards, heading for the top of the mountain of the dead. Upon the realisation of their mistake they decided to just set up camp there on the mountains eastern slopes.
Then nothing, the groups records stop there and it took a long time for an investigation into their disappearance to begin. The delay of course was reasonable, the group had planned to return to the nearest settlement, Vizhai, by 12 February and send a telegraph back to the group sports club. February 12 passed, but delays were normal in these types of expeditions, it was category III after all. So nothing happened. It was only in February 20 that the families of tThe hikers insisted that a search party be sent out looking for the lost party, and so it went. A quickly cobbled together assembly of volunteer students and teachers from the sports club went looking.Then police planes and helicopters joined them, after 6 days of searching, the camp was found.
It was totally abandoned. The group tent was badly damaged, the police investigation suggested that it had been cut open from inside. From the camp was a chain of footprints 500m long heading in the direction of the woods to the North-East, 1.5 km away. By following the approximate direction the police did find a pine tree of certain significance. Beneath the branches of the large old pine tree were the remains of a fire and the dead bodies of Krivonischenko and Doroschenko. They were both dresses in their underwear and nothing more. Between the camp and the pine tree were a further 3 bodies, those of Dyatlov, Kolmogorova and Slobodin. They were found between 300 and 600m away from the tree and all in poses suggesting an attempt to return to camp. The initial legal inquest suggested deaths from Hypothermia. No single member of the group had any injuries nearly life threatening enough to suggest murder and although one member had a small crack in their skull it was found to be non-lethal.
That however was five people, and there were nine people. The search went on for the last four people, it took 2 months to find them. All four dead. On May 4 they were located found to be further within the woods itself, buried beneath 4 metres of snow in a ravine beyond the great pine. The legal inquest into these four bodies completely changed the situation. One had major damage to his skull whilst two more had major chest fractures. One expert said that the force required for such major damage would be comparable to a car crash. However, there were no external wounds, no bruising. It was as if they had been killed by a great pressure crushing them. One woman in the group on closer inspection was found to have no tongue.
Some suspected the local Mansi people had attacked but that theory was soon ousted. There were neither footprints in the immediate area, nor in the neighbouring areas. Additionally no sign was found of a hand-to-hand struggle. At the end of the second inquest the following was found to have happened.
In the middle of the night the group was awoken and forced to leave their camp; the tent was torn open from the inside and the group left camp, all in various states of undress. Some of them had only one shoe, while others had no shoes or wore only socks. Some were found to be wrapped in fine strips of clothing as though their clothes had been cut from their dead bodies. The storm was still blowing and the temperature was −25° to −30°C.
The removal of clothes was attributed to ‘paradoxical undressing’, which is a cause of 25% of Hypothermia deaths. In moderate to severe Hypothermia the sufferer is confused and becomes aggressive, removing their clothes due to feeling hot, thus increasing heat loss and exposing them to further heat loss. It was concluded that this paradoxical undressing explained the groups collective lack of clothes.
Six of the hikers died from Hypothermia whilst the other 3 died from injuries too strong to have been inflicted by another human being. Forensic tests showed high radiation levels on 4 of the victims’ clothes. Not to forget, one of the female hikers also had a tongue missing. It was acknowledged that her tongue had degraded quickly due to the action of microorganisms, it had not been forcefully removed.
The final verdict was that the group had all been killed by a “compelling unknown force”. Due to the “absence of a guilty party” the investigation ceased in May 1959 and the files were sent to a secret archive. In the 1990’s the photocopies of the files finally became available to the public with parts missing. For 3 years after the incident, the surrounding area was off-limits for the next 3 years. The next group up there put up a posthumous monument to the victims.
Conspiracy theorists were only encouraged by the missing parts of the documents, filling in the gaps with their ideas and claiming that the officials simply missed or ignored some facts. The relatives when spoken to after the funerals commented that the bodies had a strange brown tan. That was probably a normal tan. Another, more bizarre claim was a reported sighting by another hiking group 50km to the south; the group claims to have observed orange spheres in the night sky in the direction of Kholat Syakhl, the location of the incident. Peculiarly enough there were multiple independent sightings of thee orange spheres in February and March of that year, sources including the Military and the Meteorology service. One final piece on the pile of ignored evidence was the claim of an abundance of scrap metal in the area: leading the theorists to suggest that the military had been running secret experiments in the area but that the Soviet censoring meant that any related evidence was removed from the records.
The whole unusual experience has resulted in at least 3 books and a small television documentary in 2000. The Dyatlov foundation has since been founded and still campaigns for the police to reopen the investigation. This whole incident can be summed up by the words of the groups only survivor, Yuri Yudin who turned back several days before the incident.
“If I had a chance to ask God just one question, it would be, ‘What really happened to my friends that night?’”
- Description and Analysis at aquiziam.com
- All collected photographs from the site and search party image