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The Mysterious Deaths Of Nine Russian Hikers

What Really Happened at Dyatlov Pass?

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”

~ Mark Twain

In February of 1959, nine Russian hikers died in a bizarre and unexplained incident at Dyatlov Pass. The deaths have been the source of much speculation, with theories ranging from avalanches to alien abduction.

To this day, the actual cause of their deaths remains a mystery. This article will look at what is known about the Dyatlov Pass Incident and explore some of the most popular theories about what happened that fateful night.

In uncertain conditions, the Dyatlov group incident occurred when 9 Russian hikers died in the Northern Urals mountains between January and February 1959.

The experienced trekking party from the Ural Polytechnic Institute, led by Igor Dzhagalov, had established a base camp on the eastern slopes above the Syakhl Glacier. They cut their way out of the tent during the night and fled the campsite while inadequa­tly dressed for the heavy snow and freezing temperatures.

After the group’s corpses were found, an investigation by Soviet officials determined that six had died of hypothermia while the remaining three had been killed by blunt force trauma.

One victim had significant head injuries, two had severe chest injuries, and one had a small crack in his skull. The four bodies were found lying in a stream, and three of them had soft tissue damage to their heads and faces. Two of the bodies were missing eyes, one was missing his tongue, and one was without his eyebrows. Evidence of radiation on their bodies was also found.

The investigation concluded that an “intense natural force” had caused their deaths.

Numerous theories have been proposed to explain the mysterious disappearances, including animal attacks, cold weather, avalanches, katabatic wind, low-frequency sound waves, military involvement, or combination.

Background of the story

The nine adventurers were experienced, cross-country skiers. But none would survive the trip.

A group was formed for a ski expedition across the northern Ural Mountains in Sverdlovskaya Oblast, the Soviet Union, in 1959. According to Prosecutor Tempolov, documents found in the expedition’s tent suggest that the expedition may have been named after the 21st Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and was sent out by the local Komsomol organization.

Igor Dyatlov, the group leader, was a 23-year- old radio engineering student, and the incident was named after him.

They arrived by train at Ivdal, a town in the north of Sverdlovskaya oblast, on January 25, 1959. They then took a bus to Vizhai, a small town that is the last inhabited place to the north.

On January 27, the group began their trek toward Gorni Otorten. On January 28, 2013, one member, Yuri Yakovlev, who had been suffering from several health issues (including rheumatics and a congenital heart condition), decided to turn back because of his knee and joint pain that prevented him from continuing the hike. However, the remaining nine hikers continued the trek.

Diaries and cameras discovered near their last campsite allowed investigators to follow the group’s route until the day before the incident.

On January 31, they arrived at the edge of the highlands and began preparing for climbing. They stored surplus supplies in a wooded valley, which would be used for their return journey. On the following day, the hikers started moving through the pass.

They planned to cross the pass and set up camp on the other side. Still, because of deteriorating weather conditions (snowstorms and decreased visibility), they lost their direction and deviated west toward the top end of the pass.

Search and discovery

Before leaving, Dyatlov had agreed he would send a telegram to their sports club when the group returned to Vizhai. It was expected that this would happen no later than February 12, but Dyatlov had told Yudin that he suspected it might be longer.

When the 12th passed, and no messages had been received, there was no immediate reaction, as delays of a few days were common with such expeditions. On February 20, the travelers’ relatives demanded a rescue operation, and the head of the institute sent the first rescue groups, consisting of volunteer students and teachers. Later, the army and professional search and rescue became involved.

On February 26, the searchers found the group’s abandoned and badly damaged tent on Kholat Syakhl.

The campsite baffled 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.”

Inside the tent, everything was intact -warm clothes, waterproof jackets, bedding, and sweaters that would be necessary for survival in the Siberian weather, plus cameras, diaries, and cookware, all abandoned in an instant of madness.

Investigators said the tent had been cut open from inside. Nine sets of footprints, left by people wearing only socks or a single shoe or even barefoot, could be followed, leading down to the edge of a nearby wood, on the opposite side of the pass, 1.5 kilometers (0.93 mi) to the north-east.

They pitched their tents before sunset and likely left between 1:30 am and 5:30 am and died between 4:30 am and 7:30 am.

Finding the remaining four travelers took more than two months.

They were finally found on May 4 under four meters (13 ft) of snow in a ravine 75 meters (246 ft) further into the woods from the pine tree.

Three of the four were better dressed than the others, and there were signs that some clothing of those who had died first had been removed for use by the others. One girl, Dubinina, was wearing another mans burned, torn trousers, and her left foot and shin were wrapped in a torn jacket.

Investigation into what happened

A legal inquest was immediately launched after the first five bodies had been found. A medical exam found no injuries that could have caused their deaths, and it has been determined that they all died from hypothermia. Slobodan had a small crack in his head, but it was not considered a fatal wound.

The examination of the four bodies found in May changed the narrative of the incident. Three hikers had fatal injuries: Thibeaux-Brignolles had significant skull damage, and Dubinina and Zolotaryov had major chest fractures.

All four bodies found in a running stream of fresh water had soft tissue damage on their head and face. Dubinina was missing her tongue, eyes, part of the lips, facial tissue, and a fragment of skullbone, while Zolotaryov had his eyeballs missing. In addition, high radioactivity was recorded on their bodies.

Even though the temperature was very low (around −25 to −30°C), only partially dressed bodies were lying on the ground. Some of them were wearing only one shoe, while some wore only socks. Some were found wrapped inside rips or torn clothing that seemed to have been taken from people who had already died.

Explanations for the deaths

There was initial speculation among the Mansi people that the indigenous people had attacked and killed the group for trespassing into their land. It was determined that the nature of the death did not support this theory: only the hikers’ prints were visible, and there was no evidence of a hand-to-hand fight.

They tried to explain the hikers’ strange behavior and lack of clothes by looking into the effects of hypothermic shock. Hypothermia victims often experience irrational thinking and behavior, and as they approach death, they may paradoxi­cally perceive themselves overheated, causing them to remove clothing.

Hypothermia doesn’t explain why the hikers left the warmth of their tents in a panic for an icy world outside.

Other investigators began to think that the deaths resulted from an argument among the group that escalated into violence, possibly related to a sexual encounter (there was a history of dating between several members). But people who knew them said they were essentially harmonious.

Furthermore, the Dyatlov group would have been no more capable of inflicting the damage to their fellow hikers than the Mansi — who were responsible for some deaths.

They examined 75 different theories for what may have happened to them. Still, the most popular were nine of them, including the K.G.B., a missile launch test, a nuclear explosion (which they ruled out), a hurricane, an earthquake, an avalanche, a skirmish with foreign agents, and finally, a U.F.O.

In 2020 the Russians gave an official explanation

Dyatlov Pass
The Mikhajlov Cemetry in Yekaterinburg. The tomb of the group who had died in mysterious circumstances in the northern Ural Mountains (Courtesy Wikipedia)

The Mikhajlov Cemetry in Yekaterinburg. The tomb of the group who had died in mysterious circumstances in the northern Ural Mountains (Courtesy Wikipedia)

On July 11, 2020, the official cause of death of the Dyatlov hikers was declared to be an avalanche. Later, independent computer simulations by Swiss researchers also suggested that an avalanche was the cause.

In this theory, researchers analyzed the exact location of the fatal accident and the weather conditions at the time. Modeling the snow’s conditions and behavior suggests that a slab avalanche was likely responsible for the deaths.

The most appealing aspect of Kuryakov’s scenario is that the Dyatlov team’s actions no longer seem irrational. According to Greene, if the snow slab had fallen onto the tents, it would have made loud cracking and sounds as it fell, making an avalanche seem likely.

Kuryakov noted that the skiers made an error in the placement of their tent, but everything else they later did was textbook. They conducted an emergency escape from their location, took refuge in the woods, and built a snow cave for shelter.

If they had been inexperienced, they might have stayed near the tent. However, avalanches are the most dangerous thing in the mountains during winter. And the more experienced you are at skiing, the more you fear them. In essence, their expertise caused their downfall.

Many argued that the Avalanche Theory, initially proposed in 1959, still seemed to lack credibility

The team’s tent encampment was cut through the snow on a slope that appeared to be too gentle for an avalanche. There was no snowfall on the night of February 2 that could have increased the load of the snow burden on a slope and triggered a collapse.

Most of the blunt-force trauma-like injuries and soft tissue damage were at odds with those caused by avalanches. Their victims usually suffocate.

If an avalanche occurred, why was there a gap between the time when the team members cut the slope for their encampments and the eventual avalanche? Forensic data suggests a gap of at least 9 hours between the two events.

A photograph recovered from a camera found around the neck of one of the hikers suggests the group pitched camp and ate dinner together on the evening of February 1, 1959. Forensic evidence supports that timeline.

Finale

Was it U.F.O.s? Yeti? The K.G.B.? The mystery of who or what killed the nine young hikers has inspired endless conspiracy theories for decades. Avalanche or something else, we may never know. I, for one, don’t fully support the avalanche theory, but it may be the only logical explanation. Dyatlov Pass will forever be shrouded in mystery.

What do you think happened? Dyatlov Pass is still open for business, and you can even stay at the “Dyatlov” hostel. If you’re feeling brave enough, maybe you can find out for yourself. Just don’t forget your camera. I want to see what you find.

Read more about with… Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident Kindle Edition

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