What Really Caused the Dyatlov Pass Incident?

Updated on July 28, 2019
Jade Hassenplug profile image

I have a curiosity for humanity's darker side and I love doing research so I've combined those two things to write in depth articles.

Group photo of 8 out of 9 hikers in the back  of a truck
Group photo of 8 out of 9 hikers in the back of a truck | Source

What is the Dyatlov Pass Incident?

In 1959, Igor Dyatlov gathered a group of 10 students and peers from the Ural Federal University for a mountain hike on the Ural Mountains. The group consisted of eight men and two women, each of who were experienced grade II hikers who also had skiing experience. The groups main goal was to reach Otorten, a 6.2 mile (10 kilometers) north of where the incident happened.

The group spent the night in Vizhai on January 25, 1959. This village was the last settlement in the north before the mountain. The group bought provisions for the hike in the village and filled up on bread to maintain energy for the hike the next day. The group began their journey toward Otorten from Vizhai on January 27 but on the 28th Yuri Yudin had to turn back due to health complications and joint pain that prevented him from continuing on the hike. Dyatlov had made an arrangement to send a telegram to their sports club when they got back to the village of Vizhai. They expected to be back by the 12th of February but he told Yudin that he thought it might be longer.

On the 31st of January the group made it to the edge of the highland area. It was a wooded valley that they stopped at to hide away supplies and excess food to use on their way back down the mountain. Their diaries and cameras found in this last campsite helped to track down the groups rout before the mysterious incident. The group began to move through the pass on the 1st of February and had planned on making camp on the other side the following day but unfortunately serious weather conditions caused the group to get turned around and lost. They deviated west moving closer to the top of the Kholat Syakhl and after realizing their mistake they decided to make camp on the mountain slope and figure out a plan later on. If they had moved downhill just 0.93 miles (1.5 kilometers) they could have made camp in a safer forested area that could have provided shelter from the elements. Yudin, the young man who had to turn back earlier on, said he believed Dyatlov wanted to practice camping on a mountain slope or perhaps didn’t want to lose the altitude they had gained.

On February 12 Dyatlov was supposed to have sent that telegram to their sports club but it never arrived. Because he had told Yudin that he thought the expedition would take longer then expected, nobody immediately reacted. It usually took a few days for telegraphs to reach their destination anyway. On the 20th when no communication had been made with the group, the groups families demanded a rescue operation be sent to the mountains to look for them. The University was the first to send out a rescue group consisting of student and teacher volunteers. Later on the military forces became involved in the rescue mission sending planes and helicopters to look for the missing group.

February 26, 1959 on Kholt Syakhl, a searcher party found the groups abandoned and torn up tent. Mikhail Sharavin was the student volunteer who had found the campsite and tent.

“The tent was half torn down and covered with snow. It was empty, and all the groups belongings and shoes had been left behind.”- Sharavin.

Investigators who examined the campsite claimed the tent had been cut open from the inside indicating the need for a quick escape. What could have been so horrible that they felt the need to cut it open tent instead of just using the tent entrance? They found eight or nine sets of footprints around the campsite. Some of the prints showed that the group members had only socks on, one shoe or even ran barefoot in the snow. Some prints led toward the edge of the nearby forest on the other side of the pass just 0.93 miles (1.5 kilometers) to the north-east. This was the location mentioned above before the group set up camp on the slope. At the edge of the forest under a large Siberian pine tree (also known as a Cedar) the searchers had found the remains of a small fire. Close to these remains were the bodies of two group members, Krivonischenko and Doroshenko both wearing only underwear with no shoes. The branches on the pine tree had been broken up to 5 meters high meaning someone was climbing the tree but for unknown reasons. The other members of the search party had found three more bodies between the large pine and the campground: Dyatlov, Kolmogorova and Slobodin. The poses the bodies had been found in made it seem like they had been trying to find their way back to the tent and had been spread out in distances of 300, 480 and 630 meters away from the large pine tree.

More than two months had passed before the search party and military found the remaining four group members. It was on May 4th that the rest of the bodies had been discovered covered in four meters of snow in a deep ravine, 75 meters further into the forest past the large pine tree. The remaining bodies found were Dubinina, Kolevatov, Thibeaux-Brignolles and Zolotaryov.

Photos of all the hikers before they went on the hiking trip.
Photos of all the hikers before they went on the hiking trip. | Source

How the bodies were found

The bodies of the group had been found in bizarre places around the mountain and in the forest but that’s only half of why this incident is so mysterious. Yuri Krivonischenko, 23 and Yuri Doroshenko, 21 had been found mostly naked in the freezing cold with only their underwear on. Their bodies also shown with highly brutalized hands. The investigators claimed they died of hypothermia.

Igor Dyatlov, 23 the leader of this group and hike had been found lying face up covered in snow. His jacket was unbuttoned and his face had been beaten and had visible abrasions. His hands had been clenched tightly to his chest almost as if he was having chest pain or complications. His body was found along with two others that appeared to be leading back to the camp. Zinaida Kolmogorova, 22 had injuries on her face and hands but it was also shown frostbite took both her hands and toes. Rustem Slobodin, 23 was found to have a severely fractured skull and shown signs of blunt force trauma.

Nikolai Thibeaux-Brignolle, 23 was found with no initial external injuries and had been buried in the snow. Upon further investigation it was found that he had internal injuries and had a fractured skull and jaw.

Lyudmila Dubinina, 20 was found wearing Krivonishenko’s burned and torn trousers with her left foot and knee wrapped in a torn jacket. Semyon Zolotaryov, 38 was found with a crushed chest, whatever compressed his chest was strong enough to shatter his ribs. He also had a large open wound on his skull and both Zolotaryov and Dubinina had their eyes missing but Dubinina also had her tongue missing and her mouth was open so wide it looked as though she died while screaming. It was noted that her nose was completely crushed and she had injuries on her face.

It has also been reported in several articles that some of the bodies had high levels of radiation poising causing their hair to turn gray and their bodies to have orange tints. It is claimed that the area of the campsite also had high levels of radiation in the area but officials claim it was only one group members clothing that contained high levels of radiation. They say that all other theories and statements of orange skin and gray hair are fabricated from the media.

Keep in mind that all nine of these victims were young and healthy when they went on this trip. They all had experience in hiking in cold weather and had the proper equipment to survive this.

How the tent was found by the search party
How the tent was found by the search party | Source
A few of the bodies found in the snow.
A few of the bodies found in the snow. | Source

What the Experts and Investigators say happened.

The investigators determined that six of the group members simply died from hypothermia while the other three died from fatal injuries. They don’t believe any foul play was involved and that the group died due to natural forces. The files had been sent to a secret archive after May 1959.

At first the authorities suspected that the Mansi people, an indigenous people living in the area, could have become territorial and killed the group but this was later dropped as they couldn’t find any tracks or evidence that other people were in the area. There also wasn’t any sign of hand to hand struggles according to the authorities and investigators.

It was discovered later on April 12, 2018 that after exhuming the body of Seymon Zolotarev that the DNA from the body didn’t match up with living relatives of this man. Another odd thing about his body was that an expert that had viewed the exhumed body said his injuries where consistent with someone who had been hit by a vehicle. On top of all this the name Semyon Zolotarev wasn’t on the list of the people buried at the Ivanovskoye cemetery.

The region that the hiking group died was completely blocked off for three years after the incident but is now currently open to the public.

Public and other experts theories

One of the non-paranormal theories some people believe is that an avalanche was to blame. Over the years this theory has lost it’s plausibility. A skeptic named Benjamin Radford from America proposed a more plausible avalanche theory. He claims the group members may have cut open the tent if the front of the tent was covered in snow due to a small avalanche or if they feared an avalanche may be happening. He goes on to explain that the group would have been poorly dressed as they had been sleeping. They ran off to escape the danger of the snow but got separated and eventually died of hypothermia. Radford goes on to say he believes the couple group members with severe injuries had been buried in the avalanche and thus caused such injuries. This theory sounds plausible however there was no record of any avalanche activity on the mountain side for the months the group was on the mountain and lost. There was no evidence that any avalanche had occurred either.

Swedish investigators believed Katabatic Winds could have been the main factor in the death of the group. Katabatic Winds are a rare natural phenomenon that where responsible for another group of hikers deaths in Sweden. These winds are known as deranged winds and they carry high density air from the higher elevated slopes of mountains. These heavy winds fall with the force of gravity down slopes and can travel at hurricane speeds.

The Katabatic Winds would have made it nearly impossible for the group to stay in the tent and the best course of action would have been for them to seek shelter under the treeline. Experts believe they may have made temporary shelters to wait out the winds but one of the shelters may have collapsed causing the severe injuries and them to be buried under so much snow.

Phycological panic attacks are also thought to be the reasoning behind the deaths. Donnie Eichar wrote a book in 2013 called Dead Mountain and believes wind that travels around mountains can produce something called a Karman vortex street that can create infrasounds that induce panic attacks in humans. This sound of the wind causes physical discomfort and mental distress in humans and Eichar believes this is what happened to the hikers. He thinks that in their panic they cut open the tent and fled into the open towards the forest. After a certain point of walking they would have been out of the infrasound’s path and would have regained their composure and would have tried to find their way back to the tent. In the darkness and without proper clothing the group wasn’t able to find the campsite and tent and ended up dying on the mountain side.

Some people think the hikers died due to military testing of a Soviet parachute mine exercise. This theory suggests that the group was woken by loud explosions and so they panicked and tore through the tent and fled into the forest. They had been unable to find the supplies they left hidden for the trek back down due to being shell shocked and resulted in their deaths. The severe and fatal injuries to a few members could have been from parachute mine concussions. Parachute mines detonate while they are still in the air instead of striking the Earth and this produces injuries that are very similar to the injuries found on some of the hikers bodies. The mines leave heavy internal damage with very little external trauma on the bodies. There are records of the Russian military testing these Parachute Mines in the same range and time that the hikers where in the mountains. It also coincides with a few witness accounts that claim to have seen orange glowing lights in the sky around the general vicinity of the area the hikers had been camping.

Another addition to the military theory is that Soviet Russia was testing radiological weapons. This theory is from the fact that some of the hikers clothes had extremely high levels of radiation but if it was radioactive weapons then all of the hikers would have had radiation poisoning, not just two of them. The fact that the Russian government initially suppressed and hid the files regarding the groups investigation and disappearance is used as evidence of a cover-up of what happened to the group. In the USSR at the time it was common to conceal information regarding incidents like this and so it wasn’t as peculiar as some people believed it to be.

Another popular theory is that the group was killed by a menk or a Russian Yeti. This was a premise for a Discovery Channel special that I will go into detail about later. The Russian Yeti theory is about as you would expect. A yeti or humanoid creature stalks and terrorizes the group until it eventually attacks and kills them. The reports from the search party and investigators never mentioned seeing any abnormal footprints or animal tracks around the area and there isn’t really any evidence to support this theory.

Honestly the theories for what happened to this group is very long. If you wish to read every theory possible I’ll leave a link to the page that is dedicated specifically to this case here.

In the movies and on tv

Because of the extreme mystery surrounding this incident and it becoming highly publicized, a lot of movies, tv shows and even some games have been made in speculation of the events on the mountain. One popular tv movie was from the Discovery Channel, who you would believe was a credible and educational channel. Similar to the mocumentary of Mermaids, Discovery made a mocumentary in 2014 of the Dyatlov Pass incident called Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives. In this special they make it look as though they found evidence of a yeti attacking the group. This mocumentary did upset a lot of the deceased living relatives who felt the Discovery Chanel was making money off of a tragic incident by making it into a monster movie. Instead of making a true documentary about the more realistic and plausible theories and using facts from the case, they decided instead to make up situations and fabricate a lot of what really happened with the hikers.

Another movie that was made using the “Based off true facts” was the 2013 horror film, Devils Pass. This movie is widely hated in the Dyatlov community and parts of Russia due to the grotesque way it exhibited the fabricated events. Another thing that creates problems is that a lot of people tend to think certain parts of this fictional horror movie are facts of the real case when it’s not. The Devils Pass is about five hikers who are making their own documentary and travel to the area where the first nine hikers died. They end up finding a Russian military site that was doing teleportation experiments that the original hikers got caught in. You can watch a trailer of the movie here.

A Polish game called Kholat is an indie survivor horror game that has the player as a protagonist tracing the steps of the nine Russian hikers. The player is tasked with finding investigators pages and reports while being chased by shadow creatures.

The memorial that they have up for the deceased hikers.
The memorial that they have up for the deceased hikers. | Source

My thoughts

Honestly I have no idea what happened to the nine Russian hikers. With the abundance of theories and the lack of clues and evidence as to what really happened it’s hard to pin point just one theory. I don’t believe an avalanche had anything to do with their demise but I also don’t think a Russian yeti attacked them either. I think it could possibly have something to do with the military and secret experiments or testing of weapons. It was said that there was records of the military doing weapon testing in that area around the time the hikers went up into the mountain so I don’t see why that wouldn’t be plausible.

I’ve discussed this case with friends and family among others online and every single person agrees that this was not natural. They all disagree with the official report of simple hypothermia being the cause of death. It’s also odd that nobody can really tell what happened inside that tent that seemed to initiate this whole thing. Why did they cut open the tent instead of simply using the entrance? There are simply too many unanswered questions to this case and too much speculation. I don’t know what I believe happened though as no one theory really stands out to me. There are a few that sound very plausible such as the Katabatic wind and the Parachute mines. The Katabatic winds might be a rare occurrence but if they all had panic attacks or mental breaks it could explain why they would have torn the tent open from the inside and left in their sleeping clothes. The military weapons testing of Parachute mines also makes sense and it has some records to back it up. Witnesses even claim to have seen orange lights in the sky that could have been aircraft or even the parachutes themselves. The injuries on some of the bodies were said to be similar to the kind of injuries caused by the mines as well.

I’d love to know what you think happened to the hikers. Let me know what you believe in the comments.

Questions & Answers

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