One of the most mysterious and eerie real-life tales of unexplained terror occurred on February 2, 1959 in the Ural Mountains of Russia.  Nine hikers, exceptionally experienced and well-prepared for any hike that they may take on, inexplicably disappeared and were only found twenty-four days later.  All nine victims (seven men, two women) were found in horrible condition, their bodies badly disfigured and broken, in the ice and snow of the mountains.  While many of the injuries could be attributed to the brutal elements, some simply could not be.  The tragedy has been a staple in conspiracy theory circles for over fifty years now and the truth is still no closer to being announced to the public today as it was in 1959.  The Dyatlov Pass incident is a chilling tale of terrible misfortune, haunting rumors and ugly truth.  Out of respect for the lives lost, I will not be including any photos of the discovered bodies in this piece.

 

DYATLOV PASS INCIDENT

 

A team of students and recent graduates were led by Igor Dyatlov on a ski and hiking trek, with their goal being to reach a mountain range known as Otorten which was roughly six miles away from the site of the tragedy.  The route that this adventure would take the hikers through was considered a Category III, by far the most difficult trek even for experienced hikers.  However, these men and women were certainly no novice adventure seekers- they all had extensive experience in long ski tours and mountain hiking.  Before leaving to start the hike, a gentleman by the name of Yuri Yudin bowed out of the trek at the last minute due to sickness.  This would prove to be a true act of unnerving fate for Mr. Yudin.  Dyatlov told Yudin he would telegraph around February 12th, likely a little later, with updates on the group’s progress.  With this, the group set out to their said demise.

The trip was going well until snowstorms became too much to bear and visibility became dangerously low one night.  The group lost their direction slightly and set up camp for the night with the hopes of waiting the storm out and getting back on track the next day.  Had the group moved downhill less than a mile away, where a forested area would have provided some sort of shelter from the storm, perhaps things would have developed differently.  Or perhaps not.

On this night with temperatures below freezing and a storm lashing out violently, the nine hikers tore their tent apart from the inside out and left their camp site, in different stages of undress.  Some of the hikers were even barefoot.  Six of the victims died from hypothermia, while the three others met far more horrible fates.  While one victim suffered a fractured skull, another was found with severe brain damage- without a single sign of trauma to the skull.  One woman’s tongue was missing.

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A search for the hikers did not begin until February 20th after families of the travelers demanded something be done, considering no one had heard from any of the hikers and the telegram Dyatlov promised to send never showed up.

After six days of searching by both land and air, the destroyed camp site and tent was discovered.  The first person to find the tent, a student named Mikhail Sharavin, said that the tent was torn half down and all of the group’s belongings were left behind.  It was determined that the tent was cut open from the inside.  The group clearly left the tent in a state of rushed hysteria, as all of their shoes were also left in the tent.  What would possess these people, who were no stranger to survival skills, to simply leave their site so ill-prepared?

The search continued and close to the forest’s edge about a mile away from the tent, the remains of a camp fire and two bodies were found, both only dressed in underwear.  It is believed that one or both hikers had climbed the nearby trees, as several branches were broken nearby.  Here is the first part of the mystery- if the group left only in their underwear and without shoes, what exactly did they have to start a fire with?

Three more bodies were found shortly after the first two, not too far from the trees with their bodies in poses that led authorities to believe they were trying to make their way back to the tent.

In a heartbreaking twist on an already terrible situation, the four remaining hikers weren’t found for another two months, as weather conditions complicated the search immensely.  The bodies were found under nearly thirteen feet of snow in a ravine, which contributed to the gruesome decomposition of the bodies.

One of the victims, Semyon Zolotariov, was found with a camera around his neck – an item that was not reported as part of the group’s equipment.  The film in the camera was determined to have been damaged beyond repair by the water, however that has been debated for nearly as long as the camera has been in authorities’ possession.

DYATLOV PASS INCIDENT
Igor Dyatlov

 

“An unknown compelling force”

An investigation began right after the first five bodies were found, with a medical examination determining that the victims died of hypothermia.  However, upon discovering the four bodies some two months later, the incident took on a different shade of mystery.  Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolles was found with major skull damage, while both LyudDYATLOV PASS INCIDENTmila Dubinina and Zolotariov had major chest fractures.  According to a doctor who examined the bodies, the injuries were comparable to those from a high speed car crash.  The cause of these injuries was considered “an unknown compelling force” by authorities.  The thought of the trauma that would be required in order to inflict these wounds on defenseless men and women is enough to turn anyone’s stomach.

There were no external wounds on three of the bodies, which led experts to believe the bodies had been subjected to enormous levels of pressure.  Dubininia did, however, have major external injuries that included her tongue, eyes and part of her lips missing.  This could have easily been caused by the fact that her body was found lying face down in a small that was running under the snow.  This putrefaction is common when a body is exposed to wet environments and scavenger animals could also be to blamed for this.  By the time all nine bodies were examined, six were deemed to have died from hypothermia and three from fatal injuries.  But what actually happened to these poor souls?

Theories range from the indigenous Mansi people murdering the crew for trespassing on their land to a Yeti attack, with just about anything in between.  It was determined that all of the victims died within eight hours of their last meal and the fatal injuries were not caused by a human being, “because the force of the blows had been too strong and no soft tissue had been damaged”.

During the funerals of five of the hikers, a twelve year old boy named Yury Kuntsevich who would grow up to become the head of the Dyatlov Foundation said that the skin of the bodies was a “deep brown tan”, which led many to believe radiation poisoning was to blame.  Radiation tests had shown that high doses of radiation were found on the clothes of some of the victims.

During the months of February and March of 1959, orange spheres were seen in the sky in several spots near and around the incident’s site.  These strange spheres were even documented by meteorology and military reports at this time.  Some point to military activity and others like to veer more towards the alien route.

It is also believed that the site may have been positioned near or in a military practice zone, with reports claiming that scrap metal was found in and around the area as well.  It had also been confirmed that parachute mines were being tested in the area around the time of the incident.  These mines are known to produce damage and wounds very similar to those found on the victims, including heavy internal damage with minimal external wounds.

Infrasound, described as “sound waves with frequencies below the lower limit of human audibility”, has also been considered seeing as how the wind traveling around the mountains could have created a vortex sheet that could have produced these sound waves, which in turn could have brought upon panic attacks within the group of hikers that may have led to hysteric behavior.

Shortly after the investigation wrapped up, Soviet authorities determined that the region was too dangerous for hikers and adventurers to trek for nearly three years after the incident.  The files of the incident were sent to a secret archive and photocopies of the case files only became available over thirty years later, with many parts missing.

A Russian journalist had collected tons of archives of the incident and published a book in 1967 that skewered the facts of the Dyatlov Pass tragedy greatly.  Colleagues of the man, one Yuri Yarovoi, claim that there were alternative versions of the novel that were much closer to the truth and perhaps even damning to the Russian government.  Ironically, in 1980 following Yarovoi’s death, all of the journalist’s archives, photos and manuscripts had been “lost”.

 

DYATLOV PASS INCIDENT
The tent was cut open from the inside and mostly covered in snow when searchers finally found it

 

The mystery lives on today, with The Dyatlov Foundation founded by Kuntsevitch with the mission of convincing current Russian officials to reopen the investigation as well as preserve the Dyatlov Museum, which honors those lost in the incident.  The trail was named after leader Igor Dyatlov in memory of the hikers.

There are mountains of theories, essays and documents on this incident, with some truly fascinating reads sandwiched in between endless internet links of alien theories and Yeti rumors.  It’s unfortunate that an event so tragic has been ensnared in so much mystery and suspicion, and it’s even more frustrating that the Russian government has been so reluctant to provide more details on the case, let alone reopen the investigation.  While we may never know what exactly happened on February 2, 1959, one can only hope that someday true peace of mind can come to the families affected.

 

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