The Dyatlov Pass incident was an event that resulted in the deaths of nine hikers in the northern Ural Mountains on the night of February 2, 1959. The incident happened on the eastern side of Kholat Syakhl. Since then, the mountain pass where the incident occurred has been called Dyatlov Pass after the group’s leader, Igor Dyatlov.
Investigators determined that the skiers had torn their tents from the inside out in order to escape from an apparent threat. They fled the campsite, some of them barefoot, under heavy snowfall. Although the bodies showed no signs of struggle, such as contusions, two victims had fractured skulls and broken ribs. Soviet authorities determined that an “unknown compelling force” had caused the deaths; access to the region was consequently blocked for hikers and adventurers for three years after the incident. Due to the lack of survivors, the chronology of events remains uncertain, although several theories exist, some involving a possible avalanche, and a hostile encounter with extraterrestrial Life.
Location of Dyatlov Pass, Russia
A group was formed for a ski trek across the northern Urals in Sverdlovsk Oblast. The original group, led by Igor Dyatlov, consisted of eight men and two women. Most were students or graduates of Ural Polytechnical Institute (Уральский политехнический институт, УПИ), now Ural Federal University:
- Igor Alekseievich Dyatlov (Игорь Алексеевич Дятлов), the group’s leader, born January 13, 1936
- Yuri Nikolaievich Doroshenko (Юрий Николаевич Дорошенко), born January 29, 1938
- Lyudmila Alexandrovna Dubinina (Людмила Александровна Дубинина), born May 12, 1938
- Yuri (Georgiy) Alexeievich Krivonischenko (Юрий (Георгий) Алексеевич Кривонищенко), born February 7, 1935
- Alexander Sergeievich Kolevatov (Александр Сергеевич Колеватов), born November 16, 1934
- Zinaida Alekseevna Kolmogorova (Зинаида Алексеевна Колмогорова), born January 12, 1937
- Rustem Vladimirovich Slobodin (Рустем Владимирович Слободин), born January 11, 1936
- Nicolai Vladimirovich Thibeaux-Brignolles (Николай Владимирович Тибо-Бриньоль), born July 8, 1935
- Semyon (Alexander) Alexandrovich Zolotariov (Семен (Александр) Александрович Золотарёв), born February 2, 1921
- Yuri Yefimovich Yudin (Юрий Ефимович Юдин), born July 19, 1937, died April 27, 2013
The goal of the expedition was to reach Otorten (Отортен), a mountain 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) north of the site of the incident. This route, in February, was estimated as Category III, the most difficult. All members were experienced in long ski tours and mountain expeditions.
The group arrived by train at Ivdel (Ивдель), a city at the center of the northern province of Sverdlovsk Oblast on January 25. They then took a truck to Vizhai(Вижай) – the last inhabited settlement so far north. They started their march toward Otorten from Vizhai on January 27. The next day, one of the members, Yuri Yudin, was forced to go back due to illness. The remaining group of nine people continued the trek.
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 (February 1), 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, a mountain whose name in Mansi means “Dead Mountain.” When they realized their mistake, the group decided to stop and set up camp there on the slope of the mountain, rather than moving 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) downhill to a forested area which would have offered some shelter from the elements.Yudin, the lone survivor, postulated that “Dyatlov probably did not want to lose the altitude they had gained, or he decided to practice camping on the mountain slope.
A view of the tent as the rescuers found it on February 26, 1959. The tent had been cut open from inside, and most of the skiers had fled in socks or barefoot.
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 concluded that they had all died of hypothermia. 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: Thibeaux-Brignolles had major skull damage, and both Dubinina and Zolotarev 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. Notably, the bodies had no external wounds related to the bone fractures, as if they had been subjected to a high level of pressure. However, 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 withputrefaction 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 (−13 to −22 °F) 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.
Rustem Slobodin’s body discovered by the Soviet authorities. Found buried in the snow, face down.
Many theories have arisen about the event, but avalanche damage is considered one of the more plausible explanations for this incident. One scenario under this theory is that moving snow knocked down the tent, ruining the campsite during the night. The party then cut themselves free and attempted to flee. They would likely have come in contact with the snow, which also might have ruined their boots and extra clothing. Being covered in wet snow in sub-freezing temperatures created a serious hazard to survival, with exhaustion or unconsciousness from hypothermia possibly occurring in under 15 minutes. In this scenario, Thibeaux-Brignolles, Dubinina, Zolotariov, and Kolevatov were farther from the site, possibly going to find help despite their remote location, when they fell in the ravine where they were found. Three of these bodies had major fractures, and being the only bodies so injured, it lends credence to the scenario that these injuries were the result of the fall into the ravine.
One supporting factor for this theory is that avalanches are not uncommon on any slope that accumulates snow. Despite claims that the area is not prone to avalanches, slab avalanches do typically occur in new snow, and where human activity is disrupting the snowpack. On the night of the incident, snow was falling, the campsite was situated on a slope, and the campers were disrupting the stability of the snowpack. The tent was also halfway torn down and partially covered with snow – all of which could support the theory of a small avalanche pushing snow into the tent.
Possibly negating the avalanche scenario is that investigators saw footprints leading from the campsite, with no obvious avalanche damage noted. However, the footprints could have been preserved if there was no precipitation in the 25 days before the site was discovered, and the supposed avalanche happened after most of the snow fell.
Another theory is that wind going around the Holatchahl mountain created a Karman Vortex Street, which resulted in infrasounds that have effects on humans.
Some people believe it was a military accident which was then covered up; there are records of parachute being tested by the Russian military in the area around the time the hikers were there. Parachute mines detonate a metre or two before they hit the ground and produce similar damages to those experienced by the hikers, heavy internal damage with very little external trauma. There were also glowing orbs reported in the sky in that general vicinity, possibly caused by such ordnance. This theory uses animals to account for the missing nose and tongues of certain victims. People believe the bodies were moved; photos of the tent show that it was apparently erected incorrectly, something that these experienced hikers are unlikely to have done.
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”.
- Forensic radiation tests had shown high doses of radioactive contamination on the clothes of a few victims.
- Released documents contained no information about the condition of the skiers’ internal organs.
- There were no survivors of the incident.
The final 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.