Mysterious Deaths

Mysterious Deaths


  The Dyatlov Pass incident refers to the mysterious unsolved deaths of nine individuals on a hiking trip in the northern Ural Mountains on February 2, 1959.


  This experienced trekking group from the Ural Polytechnical Institute had established a camp on the slopes of Kholat Syakhl when something went terribly wrong. During the night, something caused the group to tear their way out of their tents from the inside, fleeing the campsite in heavy snowfall and sub-zero temperatures. Even more curious, the group fled their camp wearing minimal clothing.



  Was it an avalanche, some bizarre military experiment, or a case of paradoxical undressing that caused these bizarre deaths? To this day no one knows for sure, but many theories have been presented as to what actually happened, some going as far as theorizing that a Russian Yeti was responsible.



  The goal of the groups expedition was to reach Otorten, a mountain 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) north of the site of the incident. This route was as a Category III trek, the most difficult, but all members had experience in long in mountain expeditions. They arrived by train at Ivdel, a city at the center of the northern province of Sverdlovsk Oblast, on January 25, taking a truck to Vizhai, which was the last inhabited settlement to the north. They began their march toward Otorten from Vizhai on January 27, but the next day one of the members, Yuri Yudin, was forced to go back due to illness. The remaining group of nine continued the trek, and was expected to check in via telegraph once they had returned to Vizhai around February 12th.


  When the 12th passed and no messages had been received, there was no immediate reaction. Delays of a few days were common with such expeditions. When the relatives of the travelers demanded a rescue operation on February 20, the head of the institute sent the first rescue groups consisting of volunteer students and teachers. Later, the army and militsiya forces sent planes and helicopters to join the rescue operation.



The searchers found the group’s abandoned and badly damaged tent on February 26th on Kholat Syakhl, and were baffled by what they discovered. 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. 


  Evidence showed that the tent had been cut open from inside. Eight or nine sets of footprints were discovered leaving the camp, but the tracks showed that they were wearing only socks, a single shoe, or were even barefoot. The tracks were followed down toward a wooded area, on the opposite side of the pass about 1.5 kilometers (0.93 mi) to the north-east, but after 500 meters (1,600 ft) these tracks were covered with snow.


  Under a large cedar tree near the edge of the woods, the searchers found the remnants of a small fire, along with the first two bodies. Krivonischenko and Doroshenko were discovered shoe less and dressed only in their underwear. Three more corpses – Dyatlov, Kolmogorova and Slobodin –  were discovered between the cedar tree and the campground. They appeared to have died in positions suggesting that they were attempting to return to the tent, and were found separately at distances of 300, 480 and 630 meters from the tree.



  The remaining four travelers were finally found on May 4 under four meters of snow in a ravine 75 meters farther into the woods from the cedar tree. They were better dressed than the others, and had even taken some clothing from the members of the party that had already died. Zolotariov was wearing Dubinina’s faux fur coat and hat, and Dubinina’s foot was wrapped in a piece of Krivonishenko’s wool pants. Also, a camera was discovered around Zolotariov’s neck which had not been listed as part of the groups equipment. However, the film in the camera was reported to have been damaged by water.


A medical examination of the first five bodies found no injuries which might have led to their deaths. It was eventually concluded that they had all died of hypothermia. One of the deceased had a small crack in his skull, but it was not thought to be a fatal wound.

  The examination of the four bodies found in May shifted thoughts as to what had happened, with three of the hikers showing fatal injuries. One body had major skull damage, and two others had major chest fractures, all of which required extreme force.


  Notably, the bodies had no external wounds. It was as if they had been subjected to a high level of pressure.

  It was speculated that the indigenous Mansi people might have attacked the group, but no evidence supported the theory. It was also speculated that an impending avalanche could have made the group storm out in the snow, but again, there was no evidence of an avalanche. One hypothesis, popularized by Donnie Eichar‘s 2013 book Dead Mountain, is that wind traveling around Holatchahl Mountain created a Kármán vortex street, which can produce infrasound capable of inducing panic attacks in humans, which could have caused the strange incident.



  All of these scenarios are very rational, however, some of the evidence was not. Traces from the camp showed that all group members left the campsite of their own accord, on foot, and their tent had been ripped apart from the inside. The fatal blows to several of the bodies could not have been inflicted by anything with less force than a car crash, and forensic radiation tests showed high doses of radioactive contamination on the clothes of some of the victims.


  Some people believe the incident was a military accident and cover up, as there are records of parachute mines being tested by the Russian military in the area around the same time. Parachute mines detonate a meter or two before they hit the ground, producing similar damage to those experienced by the hikers; heavy internal damage with very little external trauma. Of course, no official documents support this theory, and the official verdict was that the group members all died because of a compelling natural force.

  The investigation ceased in May of 1959. From there all files from the case were sent to a secret archive, and locked away for several decades. This was typical procedure in the USSR at the time, and is not as peculiar of an action as some theorists make it sound. All the files from the case were released in some manner, though missing pieces, by the late 1980’s.

  However, what was peculiar was the 2014 Discovery Channel special Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives, which explored the cryptozoology theory that the Dyatlov group was killed by a Menk or Russian Yeti. Oh, and by the way, the episode found no evidence to prove that the Yeti exists, or that it’s a killer.


  What do you think happened to the group in the Dyatlov Pass incident? If Discovery Channel is looking for a Yeti, then no theories are too crazy, I suppose.


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