In late January 1959, a group of nine experienced skiers/hikers from the Ural Polytechnical Institute set out on a skiing expedition that ended their lives due to mysterious circumstances. The group had established a camp on the slopes of Kholat Syakhl, in an area now named Dyatlov Pass, in honor of the group’s leader, Igor Dyatlov. In the night of February 1, something caused them to tear their way out of their tents and away from their campsite, barefoot and barely clothed for the heavy snowfall and below-zero temperatures.
When their bodies were discovered, some of them were wearing only their underwear. Some were wearing one another’s clothes. Two had head injuries. One had no tongue. Two had no eyes. Two had severe internal chest injuries. None had any visible external signs of trauma. Some of their clothes were found to be radioactive. There were no obvious signs of struggle or the presence of any other living thing in the area.
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Nobody has so far managed to uncover solid proof of why the group of experienced hikers fled their tents in a remote camping spot while partially clothed and without footwear.
Dyatlov Pass Incident Remains a Mystery
The group consisted of college students who were fellow students and peers at the Ural Polytechnical Institute. Eight of them were men and two were women—all were experienced Grade II–hikers with ski tour experience and would be receiving Grade III certification upon their return. At the time, this was the highest certification available in the Soviet Union, which required candidates to traverse 300 kilometers. The goal of the expedition was to reach Otorten, a mountain 10 kilometers north of the site of the Dyatlov Pass incident. This route, in February, was estimated as Category III, the most difficult.
On January 27, they began their trek toward Otorten from Vizhai—the last inhabited settlement to the north. The next day, however, one of the members, Yuri Yudin, suffered from several health ailments, so he turned back due to knee and joint pains that made him unable to continue the hike. Little did he know he would be the only one to return alive.
Diaries and cameras found around their last campsite made it possible to track the group’s route up to the day preceding the Dyatlov Pass incident. They pushed through the hostile climate toward the base of the mountain, but soon they were hit with snowstorms that ripped through the narrow Dyatlov Pass. Decreasing visibility caused the team to lose their sense of direction, and instead of moving toward Otorten, they accidentally trekked west and found themselves on the slope of a nearby mountain.
When they realized their mistake, the group decided to stop and set up camp there on the slope of the mountain, rather than move 1.5 kilometers farther downhill to a forested area, which would have offered some shelter from the elements. Yudin assumed that “Dyatlov probably did not want to lose the altitude they had gained or he decided to practice camping on the mountain slope.”
Before embarking on this journey, Dyatlov had told his sports club that he and his team would send them a telegram as soon as they returned from the hike. It was expected that this would happen no later than February 12, but Dyatlov had said before Yudin’s departure from the group that it might take longer than that. When February 12 passed and no telegrams were sent, there was no immediate reaction since delays of a few days were common with such expeditions. However, when February 20 rolled around and there was still no communication from the ski hikers, the families of the hikers demanded a search party.
The head of the Ural Polytechnical Institute sent the first rescue groups, consisting of volunteer students and teachers. The volunteer rescue force that trekked through the Dyatlov Pass found the campsite but no hikers, so army and police investigators were later sent in to join the rescue operation.
It wasn’t until six days later when the searchers found the group’s abandoned and badly damaged tent. 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.” The tent had apparently been cut open from the inside and was still full of the party’s rations, warm clothing, and other essentials.
Discovery of bodies
From the tent, the searchers then followed eight or nine sets of footprints left by people who were wearing only socks or a single shoe or no footwear at all, which led down toward the edge of the nearby woods on the opposite side of Dyatlov Pass. The following day, the bodies of Yuri Doroshenko and Yuri Krivonischenko were found just over a mile away. Lying by a campfire at the forest’s edge, under a large cedar, they were both stripped to their underwear. The next three bodies were found at varying distances between the tent and the cedar tree, covered by snow. Dyatlov (the leader), Kolmogorova, and Slobodin died in poses, suggesting that they were attempting to return to the tent. Autopsies later revealed that all five had died of hypothermia. Their bodies showed no indication of severe external damage beyond what had been inflicted by the cold.
It wasn’t until the other four bodies were found two months later that the mystery deepened. They were discovered buried under the snow in a ravine 75 meters deeper into the woods than the cedar. Three of the ski hikers had fatal injuries, including Nicolay Thibeaux-Brignolle, who had suffered significant skull damage in the moments before his death. Lyudmila Dubinina and Semyon Zolotaryov, had major chest fractures that could only have been caused by an immense force, comparable to that of a car crash. In the most gruesome part of the Dyatlov Pass incident, Dubinina was missing her tongue, eyes, part of her lips, as well as facial tissue and a fragment of her skull bone. They body of Alexander Kolevatov was found in the same location but without the severe wounds.
This second group of bodies suggested that the hikers had died at distinctly different times; they appeared to have been making use of the clothes of the people who died before them.
Strangely, the hikers’ clothing were all strongly radioactive, and other than their severe injuries, there were no obvious signs of struggle or the presence of any other living thing in the area. One of the hikers, Semyon Zolotaryov, had apparently taken the time to grab his camera before fleeing the tent, leaving his clothing behind. What had he hoped to photograph? Another member of the party, Yuri Krivonischenko, also had taken a blurry picture of a glowing object before the Dyatlov Pass incident. Some nearby residents, the Russian meteorology service, the military, and another group of hikers about 50 kilometers from the Dyatlov Pass also reported seeing orange spheres in the sky during the period from February to March 1959, leading some people to theorize UFOs had to be involved.
Furthermore, the footprint patterns leading away from the tent were not of a group of 9 people running in panic from either real or imagined danger. In fact, all the footprints leading away from the tent and toward the woods were consistent with individuals who were walking at a normal pace. The traces from the camp showed that all group members left the campsite of their own accord. There were also no signs of a recent avalanche to be found at the campsite, no traces of drugs, no sign of hand-to-hand struggle, no signs of other sets of footprints to indicate they were attacked by wildlife or tribesmen.
On February 1 this year, Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office announced that it was reopening an investigation into a cold case that has stumped Russians for more than 60 years. Investigators will return to the scene to carry out nine separate examinations, according to the state-run RIA Novosti news agency. Andrei Kuryakov, an official at the Sverdlovsk region prosecutor’s office, said the investigation will only be considering three theories among all 75 proposed theories: a hurricane, a snow slab, or an avalanche.
According to Sputnik News, this new Dyatlov Pass research team will include “geodesy experts.” Geodesy is a field of Earth science involved with measuring and studying the Earth’s gravitational field, geometric shape, and position and orientation in space.
Will Russian state news release the results of this new investigation? As of today, no more recent reports have been released. The case remains unsolved 60 years later.