The Dyatlov Pass Incident is a rare and eerie mystery in Russian history. Nine experienced hikers died on the mountain of inexplicable causes.
It’s a story that has seen so much speculation as to what could have killed nine young students on holiday, skiing in the Ural Mountains, Russia. They never returned and when their bodies were found days later, five of them had been frozen to death and four more had mysterious injuries. One had a missing tongue while another had a smashed head. They all seemed to have fled in terror in the middle of the night from their camp. They left behind their food, skis and warm coats and ran towards a thick forest down a snowy slope. Here, their survival chances were minimal with temperatures of around -30°C (-22° F). Investigators on the case termed the cause of death as “a compelling unknown force”. They filed the case as top secret and closed it.
“If I had a chance to ask God just one question, it would be: ‘What really happ¬ened to my friends that night?’“, says the only survivor of this expedition, Yury Yudin. He had turned back due to illness a few days into the expendition. What happened to his friends remains a painful mystery to him.
Yudin and his friends started the journey on 23rd January 1959. Ortoten Mountain was their destination, in the Northern Urals. Yuri and eight of his friends were students in Ekaterinburg, at the Ural Polytechnic Institute located in Sverdlovsk. They were led by Igor Dyatlov (23), an expert in mountaineering, cross-country and skiing.
The group consisted of Dyatlov, Yudin, Georgy Krivonischenko (24), Zina Kolmogorova (22), Yury Doroshenko (24), Rustem Slobodin (23), Ludmila Dubinina (21), Alexander Kolevatov (25) Nicolas Thibeaux-Brignollel (24) and Alexander (37) who was the only non-student.
The students travelled by train, road and on foot to get to their destination. Yudin became ill on the way and turned back and that was the last time he ever saw his friends alive. The rest of the journey was documented in the diaries and photos they left at their final camp.
The group skied across uninhabited areas, frozen lakes and arrived at river Auspia where they set up base. Here they left food and equipment for their return journey. From here on, they began climbing towards Otorten. They got lost form here, probably due to bad weather and ended up on the slopes of mountain Kholat Syakhl, at 3, 600ft height. They pitched tent for the night. Their diaries, photos and the Evening Otorten (a newspaper they produced), show them in good spirits at this point.
The first two bodies (Yury Doroshenko and Georgy Krivonischenko) were found one and a half kilometers from the tent. They were dressed in their underclothes and barefoot under a pine tree near the edge of the forest. Their hands appeared burned and charred remains of what appeared to have been a fire nearby. 300m further, they found Dyatlov’s body lying on his back, clutching a branch in one hand and facing the camp’s direction. 180m further towards the tent, they found Rustem Slobodin while Zina Kolmogorova lay 150m from him. They appeared to have been trying to crawl back to the tent. Cause of death according to doctors for the five was hypothermia. Slobodin had a fractured skull, but this was not the cause of death.
Two months later, the other four skiers were found. Their bodies were buried under 4m of snow in a forest ravine that was 250ft away from the location of the first bodies. The deaths of Nicolas Thibeaux-Brignollel, Alexander Kolevatov, Ludmila Dubinina and Alexander Zolotaryov looked traumatic. The skull of Thibeaux-Brignollel had been crushed while Zolotaryov and Dubunina had several broken ribs. No external wounds were found on the bodies however. Strangely though, bits of clothing they wore contained higher than normal levels of radiation.
Some anomalies after postmortem were that some were fully clothed while others were nearly naked. Dubinina’s body was also missing her eyes and tongue. The investigation was closed by the end of that month and files kept in a secret archive. Adventurous and skiers were barred from the area for three years after this incident.
Half a century later and the deaths of these students are still a mystery. What was the “unknown force”? Was there a cover up? Why did the students leave their tent? How and why was the second group buried in the snow?
Different theories have come up including an attack from a hostile tribe or criminals, aliens, snowmen and secret military technology. They have however been discounted since no other footsteps except those from the students were found. Others have suggested an attack from bears but animal tracks were not found either. An avalanche too, but no snow was found pouring over the tent. Others have suggested being caught up in a bizarre military accident but no experimental weapons were found at the site.
We probably will never know what happened on those mountains and the mystery on the Mountain of the Dead will still go on unresolved and as intriguing as ever.