On February 2 1959, a group of students from the Ural Polytechnic Institute (now the Ural Federal University) prepared a hiking expedition in the Ural Mountains. Nothing strange, considering that they were used to such activities, forming an experienced trekking team. Their target was to reach Mountain Otorten, by using a “category III” route, which is the highest level of difficulty for a mountain route. 10 hikers formed the group, the youngest aged 20 (Lyudmila Alexandrovna Dubinina) the oldest 38 years of age (Semyon Alekseevich Zolotariov).
The expedition started on January 27 from Vizhai, a very remote city of the northern province of Sverdlovsk Oblast, which is the last inhabited settlement located north. After the first day of March, one of the hikers (Yuri Yefimovich Yudin) renounced due to illness, detaching and leaving the rest of the team. That was the moment that saved his life. Yuri Yudin died at age 75, in 2013. The remaining 9 members of the expedition team, all died there, on their route to the Otorten Mountain.
What happened more exactly?
Let’s continue the story for a bit, just in order to built a better context for it. On January 31, the group reached the point from where they will start the climbing route through the pass. They prepared everything was needed for such operation and on February 1 they started to climb. Due to very bad weather conditions (snowstorms which limited visibility), the group had to change route, improvising their camp on the western slope, to the top of Kholat Syakhl, a mountain in the northern Ural, also known as “The Dead Mountain”.
That was their last known location. Friends and relatives (including the 10th member of the group, Yuri Yudin) were attending a telegram from the group, once they would have returned to Vizhai, but that message never came. On February 20, the first rescue group was sent after them. Later on, the army involved planes and helicopters in order to better cover the area of research. On February 26, the rescue team was able to find the abandoned tent used by the hiker group. The tent was empty and strangely it had been cut from the inside. Around the tent, eight or nine sets of footprints, coming from individuals barefoot, wearing only socks or only one boot, everything was suggesting a panic situations, something that made them leave in a hurry, totally disorganized.
The footprints continued for around 500 meters, but at some point became invisible, due to the heavy snow. The first two bodies were found near a forest’s border, they were Yuri Krivonischenko and Yuri Doroshenko. They were dressed only in their underwear, no boots or anything else. They did a small fire near the cedar tree used as improvised resting point. The cedar’s branches were broken up to five meters high, revealing that probably one of the hikers climbed the tree, in order to gain visibility or spot something.
Not far from the cedar, other three bodies were found, this time Dyatlov, Kolmogorova and Slobodin. They were in separate locations, at distances of 300, 500 and 600 meters. The remaining four members of the hiking group were found only two months later, on May 4. They were buried under four meters of snow, in an area located at around 80 meters from the cedar tree, where the first ones were found. These last four members were well dressed. They reused the clothes, taking them from the ones who had died first. Zolotariov was wearing a fur coat and a hat coming from Dubinina while Dubinina had one foot covered by a piece of Krivonishenko’s wool pants.
A first medical examination concluded that all of them died of hypothermia and no other injuries could have caused their death were found. Afterwards, new informations were gained from the examination of the last four discovered bodies, the ones buried under the snow and normally dressed. Three of them were reporting serious injuries, fatal ones. Both Dubinina and Zolotarev, had the signs of a major and violent chest fractures, while Brignolles had a severe skull fracture. The doctors concluded that only a very high force could have caused such injuries, a force similar (if not higher) than the one generated by a car crash. Dubina was missing her eyes, tongue and lips.
Some suggested that they could have been attacked by the indigenous Mansi, who inhabited sectors of that area, but the nature of the hiker’s death couldn’t support this theory: the only footprints were coming from the hikers, there was no sign of struggle or hand-to-hand combat.
The case was closed in May 1959, compiling the cause of their death as “caused by a compelling natural force”. The files were sent to a secret archive and the photocopies of the case became available only in 1990, although some parts were missing. (Quote from Osadchuk, Svetlana “Mysterious Deaths of 9 Skiers Still Unresolved”).
Slowly, other aspects or details related to this strange case, started to appear, like the testimony coming from another group of hikers located at about 50 kilometers from the Dyatlov Pass incident. They stated that:
“They saw strange orange spheres in the night sky to the north on the night of the incident.” (Quotes from Osadchuk, Svetlana “Mysterious Deaths of 9 Skiers Still Unresolved”)
Similar spheres were observed in Ivdel and adjacent areas continually during the period from February to March 1959, by various independent witnesses (including the meteorology service and the military). An interesting testimony was coming from a police officer, more exactly Lev Ivanov, which was the leading investigator of the case, back in 1959. He stated in 1990 that:
“The investigation team had no rational explanation for the accident. He also stated that, after his team reported that they had seen flying spheres, he then received direct orders from high-ranking regional officials to dismiss this claim.” (Quote from Ivanov, Lev: “Enigma of the fire balls”)
What are the possible explanations?
Here is a list of accepted or suggested explanations for the incident:
– Avalanche: the group was caught by an avalanche and cut out their way from the tent;
– Bear attack: could explain the physical trauma reported by some of the bodies;
– Infrasound: theory by Donnie Eichar, presented in the book “Dead Mountain” from 2013. He sustain that the wind from the Holatchahl Mountain created a Kármán vortex street, capable of inducing panic attacks;
– Military tests: there are many beliefs that the army was testing around the area a new type of weapon, a parachuted mine designed to detonate about two meters above the ground. That would explain the heavy trauma suffered by the hiker’s body and also the glowing orb spotted by other people located in the area;
– Paradoxical undressing: iScience Times posted that the hikers’ deaths were caused by hypothermia, which can induce a behavior known as paradoxical undressing in which hypothermic subjects remove their clothes in response to perceived feelings of burning warmth (quote from Smith, Anthony “Dyatlov Pass Explained: How Science Could Solve Russia’s Most Terrifying Unsolved Mystery”);
– Russian Yeti: yes, there is also this possible scenario. A Russian Yeti with superhuman strength attacked them, causing their death;
(Article written using references from Wikipedia)