Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Dyatlov Pass incident

This is one of the most (if not the most) weird and mysterious incident in modern history, It happened on the east shoulder of the mountain Kholat Syakhl (a Mansi name, meaning Mountain of the Dead) on February 2, 1959 and resulted in the deaths of nine ski hikers.

The lack of eyewitnesses and subsequent investigations into the hikers deaths have inspired much speculation. Investigators at the time determined that the hikers tore open their tent from within, departing barefoot in heavy snow. Though the corpses showed no signs of struggle, two victims had fractured skulls, two had broken ribs, and one was missing her tongue. According to sources four of the victims' clothing contained high-levels of radiation. There is no mention of this in contemporary documentation-it only appears in later documents. Soviet investigators determined only that "a compelling unknown force" had caused the deaths. Access to the area was barred for three years after the incident. The chronology of the incident remains unclear due to the lack of survivors.

A group was formed for a ski trek across the northern Urals in Sverdlovsk, now Yekaterinburg. The group, led by Igor Dyatlov, consisted of eight men and two women. Most were students or graduates of Ural Polytechnical Institute, now Ural State Technical University.

Igor Dyatlov, the group's leader
Zinaida Kolmogorova
Lyudmila Dubinina
Alexander Kolevatov
Rustem Slobodin
Yuri Krivonischenko
Yuri Doroshenko
Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolle
Alexander Zolotarev
Yuri Yudin

The goal of the expedition was to reach Otorten, a mountain 10 kilometers north of the site of the incident. This route, at that season, 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, a city at the center of the northern province of Sverdlovsk Oblast on January 25. They then took a truck to Vizhai - the last inhabited settlement so far north. They started their march towards Otorten from Vizhai on January 27. The next day, one of the members (Yuri Yudin) was forced to go back because of health problems. The group now consisted of nine people.

Diaries and cameras found around their last camp 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 woody valley they built a storage for surplus food and equipment which 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, upward towards the top of Kholat Syakhl. When they realized their mistake, the group decided to stop and set up camp there on the slope of the mountain.

It had been agreed beforehand that Dyatlov would send a telegraph to their sports club as soon as the group returned to Vizhai. It was expected that this would happen no later than February 12, but when this date had passed and no messages had been received, there was no reaction—delays of a few days were common in such expeditions. Only after the relatives of the travelers demanded a rescue operation did the head of the institute send the first rescue groups, consisting of volunteer students and teachers, on February 20. Later, the army and police forces became involved, with planes and helicopters being ordered to join the rescue operation.

On February 26, the searchers found the abandoned camp on Kholat Syakhl. The tent was badly damaged. A chain of footprints could be followed, leading down towards the edge of nearby woods (on the opposite side of the pass, 1.5km north-east), but after 500 meters they were covered with snow. At the forest edge, under a large old pine, the searchers found the remains of a fire, along with the first two dead bodies, those of Krivonischenko and Doroshenko, shoeless and dressed only in their underwear. Between the pine and the camp the searchers found three more corpses—Dyatlov, Kolmogorova and Slobodin—who seemed to have died in poses suggesting that they were attempting to return to the camp. They were found separately at distances of 300, 480 and 630 meters from the pine tree.

Searching for the remaining four travelers took more than two months. They were finally found on May 4, under four meters of snow, in a ravine in a stream valley further into the wood from the pine tree.

A legal inquest had been 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. One person 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 changed the picture. Three of them had fatal injuries: the body of Thibeaux-Brignolle had major skull damage, and both Dubunina and Zolotarev had major chest fractures. The force required to cause such damage would have been extremely high, with one expert comparing it to the force of a car crash. Notably, the bodies had no external wounds, as if they were crippled by a high level of pressure. One woman was found to be missing her tongue. There had initially been some 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 thesis; the hikers' footprints alone were visible, and they showed no sign of hand-to-hand struggle.

There was evidence that the team was forced to leave the camp during the night, as they were sleeping. Though the temperature was very low (around -25° to -30°C) with a storm blowing, the dead were dressed only partially, and certainly inadequately for the conditions. 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 which seemed to be cut from those who were already dead.

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 apart from the nine travelers on Kholat Syakhl, nor anyone in the surrounding areas.
  • 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 (including those who were found injured) left the camp of their own accord, on foot.
  • To dispel the theory of an attack by the indigenous Mansi people, one doctor indicated 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.
The final verdict was that the group members all died because of an "unknown compelling force". The inquest ceased officially in May 1959 due to 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, with some parts missing.

Some researchers point out the following facts which were missed, perhaps ignored, by officials:
  • After the funerals, relatives of the deceased claimed that the skin of the victims had a strange orange tan.
  • A former investigating officer said, in a private interview, that his dosimeter had shown a high radiation level on Kholat Syakhl, and that this was the reason for the radiation found on the bodies. However, the source of the contamination was not found.
  • Another group of hikers (about 50 kilometers south of the incident) reported that they saw strange orange spheres in the night sky to the north (likely in the direction of Kholat Syakhl) on the night of the incident. Similar "spheres" were observed in Ivdel and adjacent areas continually during the period of February to March 1959, by various independent witnesses (including the meteorology service and the military).
  • Some reports suggested that much scrap metal was located in the area, leading to speculation that the military had utilized the area secretly and might be engaged in a cover-up.
What really happened on that tragic day, it is still unknown.

Tell everyone what you think about it by posting a comment.


  1. That is some creepy shit.
    I'm freaked out.

  2. It's super creepy.. my friends and I keep going over it and trying to find pictures.. it's scary but compelling....

  3. Umm... ok. The article seems to be true in facts, except for a number of details missed or omitted herein. First, they did not loose their direction and they stopped at the Kholyat-Syakhyl, as scheduled. Some think they stopped there for the second time: after they had finally built the storage of surplus food in the woody valley and came back to the slope next day. They knew about the schedule delay, but they considered it ok.
    Secondly, there was no army engaged in searching: only guards from a nearest prison camp. There were no police: only one detective and representatives from KGB afterwards.
    Third, yes, indeed, one girl, Dubinina, had her tongue missing...but...she was lying in the ravine facedown, immersed into a brook with her mouth opened. The tongue just decomposed also thanks to the brook habitants.
    Moreover, those two at the pine tree (Cedar in Russian) had no eye-bulbs and nose tips and had the legs and hands burnt. Yeah, by the way, fewer foreign people know that before the accident Dubinina wrote down in her diary the words "I...brook". The words resulted from her guessing the Mansi symbols left on the trees.
    Another info for those who are interested: Yuri Krivonischenko and Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolle worked at a secret plant specialized in radioactive materials. Alexander Zolotarev, as they say and some facts testify, was somehow connected with KGB. Also, there was some kind of a love triangle between some of’em, but it is not the case for the accident.
    Besides, Dyatlov, Slobodin and Kolmogorova had their mouths and noses bleeding. Blood remained on the snow they were found. More details I left unsaid because of saving your time.
    I've been interested in this incident for some years, that's why I am still in search for the right answer.
    Constantine, Siberia

  4. Nice post,
    I have written an article on the same subject and posted my thoughts about the weird tan, missing tongue etc. and how most of them can be explained with the exception of why they ran out of their tents in the first place.

  5. This incident has truly fascinated me since I discovered it a few weeks ago. I really don't know what to think. Some people think they were attacked by aliens or Bigfoot. Maybe there was madness in the air...or one of the team members decided to kill their fellow hikers and themselves. Whatever happened, I agree that it was a truly, truly tragic occurence.

  6. Interesting how there seems to be a lot of interest in this recently. I read about this by chance of Wikipedia, now I've read every every version of events on the internet! I'd love to find out the real story behind the events. Maybe someday the Russian government will come clean and the answers will be revealed.

  7. I think that it is so interesting because the lack of eyewitnesses and subsequent investigations into the hikers' deaths have inspired much speculation.I agree with it It had been agreed beforehand that Dyatlov would send a telegraph to their sports club as soon as the group returned to Vizhai.

  8. Constantine, Siberia thank you for the very informative post.

  9. You're welcome. Any time, if ya need more.

  10. Constantine, could you please share more information about the projects that Yuri Krivonischenko and Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolle where involved? And more information of the involvement with KGB?
    Wolfgang Faust

  11. I enjoyed following the whole entry, I always thought one of the main things to count when you write a blog is learning how to complement the ideas with images, that's exploiting at the maximum the possibilities of a ciber-space! Good work on this entry!

  12. I've heard avalanche. Which makes sense for the crushing injuries. Bodies left out for days before discovered explains the sun burned (orange) skin. Animals typically go for soft tissue explains the missing tongue. Usually when you begin to experience hypothermia you begin to start taking off your clothes. Can't explain the radiation tho.

  13. You must conclude that this the work of aliens.
    One had her tongue missing;just like cattle mutilations in the states. UFOs were seen in the area in both cases.The animals mutilated in the states also have levels of raditation. Too strange and weird .

  14. Have you seen the trailer for the movie based on the true events of the Dyatlov Pass Incident? It looks so good (and creepy, of course!)