Dyatlov Pass incident: The horrible fate of 9 Soviet hikers

The Dyatlov Pass Incident was the mysterious deaths of nine hikers on the Kholat Syakhl mountains, in the northern Ural Mountains range, that took place in February 1959. Their bodies were not recovered until that May. Most of the victims were found to have died of hypothermia after strangely abandoning their tent (at -25 to -30 °C stormy weather) high on an exposed mountainside. Their shoes were left behind, two of them had fractured skulls, two had broken ribs, and one was missing her tongue, eyes and part of the lips. In forensic tests, the clothings of some of the victims were found to be highly radioactive. There was no any witness or survivor to provide any testimony, and the cause of their deaths was listed as a "compelling natural force," most likely an avalanche, by the Soviet investigators.

The Dyatlov Pass incident conveys the mysterious death of nine Soviet hikers on the Kholat Syakhl mountain in the northern Ural Mountains range of Russia. The tragic yet eerie incident took place between 1 and 2 February of 1959, and all the bodies weren’t recovered until that May. Since then, the region where the incident took place is called “Dyatlov Pass,” based on the name of the ski-group’s leader, Igor Dyatlov. And the Mansi tribe of the region call this place “Mountain of the Dead” in their native language.

Here in this article, we have summed up the whole story of Dyatlov Pass incident to find out the possible explanations of what may have happened to the 9 experienced Russian hikers who horribly demised at the Dyatlov Pass mountains region on that fateful event.

The ski-group of Dyatlov Pass Incident

Dyatlov Pass incident Group
The Dyatlov Group with their sports club members in Vizhai on January 27. Public Domain

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 from the Ural Polytechnical Institute, which is now renamed as Ural Federal University. Their names and ages are given below respectively:

  • Igor Alekseievich Dyatlov, the group leader, born on January 13, 1936, and died at the age of 23.
  • Yuri Nikolaievich Doroshenko, born on January 29, 1938, and died at the age of 21.
  • Lyudmila Alexandrovna Dubinina, born on May 12, 1938, and died at the age of 20.
  • Yuri (Georgiy) Alexeievich Krivonischenko, born on February 7, 1935, and died at the age of 23.
  • Alexander Sergeievich Kolevatov, born on November 16, 1934, and died at the age of 24.
  • Zinaida Alekseevna Kolmogorova, born on January 12, 1937, and died at the age of 22.
  • Rustem Vladimirovich Slobodin, born on January 11, 1936, and died at the age of 23.
  • Nicolai Vladimirovich Thibeaux-Brignolles, born on July 8, 1935, and died at the age of 23.
  • Semyon (Alexander) Alekseevich Zolotaryov, born on February 2, 1921, and died at the age of 38.
  • Yuri Yefimovich Yudin, expedition controller, who was born on July 19, 1937, and was the only person who didn’t die in “The Dyatlov Pass incident.” He died later on April 27, 2013, at the age of 75.

Goal and difficulty of the expedition

The goal of the expedition was to reach Otorten, a mountain 10 kilometres north of the site where the tragic incident took place. This route, in February, was estimated as Category-III, which means the most difficult to hike. But it was not a concern for the ski group, because all members were experienced in long ski tours and mountain expeditions.

The strange missing report of Dyatlov’s group

They started their march toward Otorten from Vizhai on January 27. Dyatlov had informed during the expedition, he would send a telegram to their sports club on February 12. But when the 12th passed, no messages had been received and they all were missing. Soon the government began an extensive search for the missing ski-hikers group.

The bizarre discovery of Dyatlov’s group members under mysterious circumstances

On February 26, Soviet investigators found the missing group’s abandoned and badly damaged tent on Kholat Syakhl. And the campsite left them completely baffled. According to Mikhail Sharavin, the student who found the tent, “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.” Investigators come to the conclusion that the tent had been cut open from inside.

Dyatlov pass incident tent
A view of the tent as the Soviet investigators found it on February 26, 1959. East2West

They further found eight or nine sets of footprints, left by people who were wearing only socks, a single shoe or were even barefoot, could be followed, leading down toward the edge of a nearby woods, on the opposite side of the pass, 1.5 kilometres to the north-east. However, after 500 metres, the trail of the footprint was covered with snow.

At the nearby forest’s edge, under a large cedar, investigators discovered another mysterious scene. They witnessed the remains of a small fire still burning, along with the first two bodies, those of Krivonischenko and Doroshenko, shoeless and dressed only in their underwear. The branches on the tree were broken up to five metres high, suggesting that one of the skiers had climbed up to look for something, perhaps the camp.

Dyatlov Pass Incident
The bodies of Yuri Krivonischenko and Yuri Doroshenko.

Within few minutes, between the cedar and the camp, the investigators found three more corpses: Dyatlov, Kolmogorova and Slobodin, who seemed to have died in poses suggesting that they were attempting to return to the tent. They were found separately at the distances of 300, 480 and 630 metres from the tree respectively.

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Top to bottom: The bodies of Dyatlov, Kolmogorova, and Slobodin.

Searching for the remaining four travellers took more than two months. They were finally found on May 4 under four metres of snow in a ravine 75 metres farther into the woods from that cedar tree where others were previously found.

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Left to right: The bodies of Kolevatov, Zolotaryov, and Thibeaux-Brignolles in the ravine. The body of Lyudmila Dubinina on her knees, with her face and chest pressed to the rock.

These four were better dressed than the others, and there were signs, indicating that those who had died first had apparently relinquished their clothes to the others. Zolotaryov was wearing Dubinina’s faux fur coat and hat, while Dubinina’s foot was wrapped in a piece of Krivonishenko’s wool pants.

Forensic reports of the Dyatlov Pass Incident victims

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 eventually 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 other four bodies―that 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 Zolotaryov 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 skull bone; 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 with putrefaction in a wet environment, and were unlikely to be related to her death.

The mysteries that Dyatlov Pass Incident left behind

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© Wikipedia

Although the temperature was very low, around −25 to −30 °C with a storm blowing, the dead were only partially dressed. Some of them had even 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.

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Location map of Dyatlov Pass incident

Journalist’s 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 ski-hikers.
  • 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.
  • The appearance of their corpses had a slightly orange, withered cast.
  • Released documents contained no information about the condition of the skiers’ internal organs.
  • There were no survivors of the incident to tell the story.

Theories behind the mystery of Dyatlov Pass Incident

As the mystery begins, people also come up with a number of rational thoughts to sketch the actual causes behind the strange deaths of the Dyatlov Pass Incident. Some of them are briefly cited here:

They were attacked and killed by the indigenous people

There was initial speculation that the indigenous Mansi people might have attacked and murdered the group for encroaching upon their lands, but in-depth investigation indicated that the nature of their deaths did not support this hypothesis; the hikers’ footprints alone were visible, and they showed no signs of hand-to-hand struggle.

To dispel the theory of an attack by the indigenous people, Dr. Boris Vozrozhdenny stated another conclusion 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.”

They were experiencing some kinds of visual hallucinations due to hypothermia

Whereas, many believe they may be experiencing some intense psychological episodes such as visual hallucinations due to hypothermia in extremely low temperatures.

Severe hypothermia eventually leads to cardiac and respiratory failure, then death. Hypothermia comes on gradually. There is often cold, inflamed skin, hallucinations, lack of reflexes, fixed dilated pupils, low blood pressure, pulmonary edema, and shivering is often absent.

As our body temperature drops, the cooling effect has also a significant impact on our senses. People with hypothermia become very disoriented; ending up developing hallucinations. Irrational thinking and behaviour is a common early sign of hypothermia, and as a victim approaches death, they may paradoxically perceive themselves to be overheating — causing them to remove their clothes.

They possibly murdered each other in a romantic encounter

Other investigators began to test the theory that the deaths were the result of some argument among the group that got out of hand, possibly related to a romantic encounter (there was a history of dating between several of the members) that could explain some of the lack of clothes. But people who knew the ski group said they were largely harmonious.

They had experienced one or more panic attacks before their deaths

Other explanations include drug testing that caused violent behaviour in the hikers and an unusual weather event known as infrasound, caused by particular wind patterns that can lead to panic attacks in humans because the low-frequency sound waves create a kind of noisy, intolerable situation inside the mind.

They were killed by supernatural beings

Some people effectively began to posit nonhuman assailants as the culprits behind the Dyatlov Pass Incident. According to them, the hikers were killed by a menk, a kind of Russian yeti, to account for the immense force and power necessary to cause the injuries to three of the hikers.

Paranormal activities and secret weapons behind their mysterious deaths

The secret weapon explanation is popular because it is partially supported by the testimony of another hiking group, one camping 50 kilometres from the Dyatlov Pass team on the same night. This other group spoke of strange orange orbs floating in the sky around Kholat Syakhl. While some also interpret this event as distant explosions.

Lev Ivanov, the chief investigator of the Dyatlov Pass Incident, said, “I suspected at the time and am almost sure now that these bright flying spheres had a direct connection to the group’s death” when he was interviewed by a small Kazakh newspaper in 1990. Censorship and secrecy in the USSR forced him to abandon this line of inquiry.

They died of radiation poisoning

Other sleuths point to the reports of small amounts of radiation detected on some of the bodies, leading to wild theories that the hikers had been killed by some sort of secret radioactive weapon after stumbling into secret government testing. Those who favour this idea stress the strange appearance of the bodies at their funerals; the corpses had a slightly orange, withered cast.

But if radiation was the main cause of their deaths, more than modest levels would have registered when the bodies were examined. The corpses’ orange hue isn’t surprising given the frigid conditions in which they sat for weeks. To say, they were partially mummified in the cold.

Final thoughts

At the time the 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. In the last, despite thousands of attempts and sixty years of speculation about the mysterious deaths of nine Soviet hikers in Russia’s Ural Mountains in 1959, the “Dyatlov Pass incident” still remains one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in this world.

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© Goodreads

Now, the “Tragedy of Dyatlov Pass” has become the subject of many subsequent films and books, considering it one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century. “Dead Mountain”, “Mountain of the Dead” and “Devil’s Pass” are significantly some of them.

VIDEO: The Dyatlov Pass Incident