In early 1959 a group of hikers decided to head out on an expedition
across a mountainous region of western Soviet Union.
The group consisted of nine experienced men and women greatly familiar with the Siberian wilderness.
Yet, this adventure would prove to be their last.
Despite a criminal investigation, photographs, and journal entries,
the case remains unsolved after more than half-a-century.
This is the case of Dyatlov Pass.
In the early morning of January 23rd, 1959, a ski and hiking team of ten boarded a train
heading for the Ural mountains in the middle of the Soviet Union.
The group consisted of eight men and two women with Igor Dyatlov as the group's leader.
As the train slowly advanced deep into the mountainous Siberian taiga
the group diary received a final entry.
"I wonder what awaits us on this hike? Will anything new happen?"
Over the next few days, the group continue to altercate between modes of transportation.
First a bus, then a truck, then a horse and sleigh, and eventually they proceed on foot and skis.
On January 28th, one of the hikers, named Yuri Yudin, had begun to feel quite ill and
eventually decided to head back while the remaining group of nine continued as planned.
These photos where taken just before they parted ways and it would be the last time he saw his friends alive.
The group resumed their expedition across the snow-covered outback and documented everything
of note using diaries as well as multiple cameras.
Recovered photos and journal entries suggest that the trek progressed as one would expect
with no unforeseen complications.
Just lots of snow, bitter cold, and an increasingly arduous landscape.
On February 1st, they reached the foot of a mountain
known to the indigenous Mansi population as Dead Mountain.
They spent the better part of the day progressing up the slope and eventually decide to set up
camp only a few hundred meters from the peak.
These are some of the last photos recovered from the cameras and the last sentence of the final entry reads.
"It is difficult to imagine such a comfort on the ridge, with shrill howling wind,
hundreds of kilometers away from human settlements."
A few weeks later, friends and relatives begin to worry.
No one has heard from Igor or any of the other members of the group.
After much debate, a team of volunteers eventually head out to find them.
On February 26th, the search party is finally able to locate the camp on the slope.
It's obvious to the first at the scene that something has gone horribly wrong.
The tent is in scrambles, covered by a thin coat of snow.
The hiker's belongings and equipment was found orderly placed inside the tent but the tent
itself had been slashed open with a knife from the inside.
The next day, nine pairs of footprints lead the search volunteers down the slope towards the nearby woods.
Given that the footprints left rather mild indentations in the snow would suggested that
they descended the slope in a rather calm and orderly fashion, as opposed to running away in panic.
The footprints could be tracked for about half a kilometer from the tent until the trail
was completely covered by snow.
So they continued in the direction of the trail and under a large cedar tree at the
edge of the forest next to the remains of an improvised campfire they found the frozen
bodies of Yuri Doroshenko and Yuri Krivonischenko.
It would take over two months for the bodies of all nine hiker to be recovered.
The first two were found severely underdressed.
No jackets, no pants, no gloves, hats, boots or anything else one might expect given the frigid climate.
Only light shirts, underpants, and socks.
At the time of their death it would've been around -30 °C (-22°F).
The cedar tree had signs of damage as if someone had climbed it, with branches broken up to five meters high.
Perhaps they were attempting to locate the tent in the pitch-black darkness or perhaps
they were trying hide from someone or something.
The next three hikers where found at varying distances
between the tent and the tree covered by a few centimeters of snow.
They were better dressed than the previous two but not by much as they still lacked essential
items such as boots, hats, and gloves.
They were all found facing the direction of the tent as if they were struggling to return
at the moment of death.
While some of them had sustained minor injuries, all five had died of hypothermia.
It should also be noted that four of them had died while intoxicated.
The last four hikers were found at the bottom of a small hill, covered by 3 meters of snow,
75 meters from the tree, in the opposite direction of the tent.
Three of them had sustained lethal injuries.
One had a fractured skull and two had fractured multiple ribs and suffered massive internal bleeding.
The medical examiner believed the injuries had been sustained from a fall and compared it to a car crash.
The injuries had been sustained while they were all alive and could not have been inflicted by another person.
Two had also been found with gaping eye sockets and one of the women had a missing tongue.
The last of the four had a broken nose and a deformed neck but died of hypothermia.
And most mysterious of all, three articles of clothing were later found to be abnormally radioactive.
On May 28th, the criminal case was discontinued with a cryptic and incredibly vague conclusion.
The lead investigator writes in the final report:
"The cause of death was an unknown compelling force which the hikers were unable to overcome."
Not exactly the most satisfying answer and barely a conclusion at all.
So just in case the Galactic Empire had nothing to do with the death of the hikers, is it
possible to explain some of the more enigmatic details in a less vague yet credible fashion?
Let's give it a shot.
The fact that Dubinina was missing her tongue, has been taken way out of proportion.
Some say that it was cut off or ripped out while she was still alive, others say it was
eaten by scavengers after death, while some even claim the tongue was later found somewhere else.
But I've read the medical reports and this is what it says:
"The diaphragm of the mouth and the tongue is missing."
There's nothing about cutting or ripping or anything.
I don't know how or where it began but there seems to be an exaggerated importance placed
on this missing tongue while in reality it's a rather minor detail.
At least the medical examiner believied it to be minor detail, otherwise he would likely have elaborated further.
For example, the same section of the same report states:
"Gaping orbits, the eyeballs are absent."
Equally mysterious, right?
Well no, because the medical examiner does provide an explanation for both.
"Soft tissue injuries to the head [...] are postmortem changes (putrefaction and decomposition)
to Dubinina's corpse, which was recently exposed to water prior to detection."
He even adds "(putrefaction and decomposition)" in parentheses to clarify exactly what he means.
And this was not even exclusive to Dubinina as the four last bodies were all damaged due to the melting snow.
Now, some who claim that her tongue must have been removed while she was still alive have
pointed to the fact that she had about 100 grams of blood in her stomach.
But that's not exactly true either.
The relevant portion of the forensic examination reads:
"The stomach contained up to 100 cm3 of a dark red slimy mass."
That's about 10 cl of something (most likely food) mixed with something red (most likely blood).
So we don't know how much blood was in her stomach just that there was blood in her stomach.
Which isn't that strange given that she was suffering from massive internal bleeding.
One of the most mysterious aspects of this case is that three separate articles of clothing,
discovered on two of the bodies, were found to be radioactive.
Which does indeed sound a bit mysterious but you have to
keep in mind that almost everything is slightly radioactive.
So we need more details.
The radiological studies claim that under normal circumstances
an area of 150 cm2 should not exceed 5000 disintegrations per minute (dpm).
Only three articles of clothing exceeded or equaled that limit at 5000 dpm, 5600 dpm, and 9900 dpm.
The only explanation given in the report is that:
"...the clothes were contaminated as radioactive dust fell from the atmosphere, or the clothes
were susceptible to contamination when in contact with radioactive substances."
In other words, they were unable to determine exactly how the clothes where contaminated
but it's not unrealistic to believe it to be a result of natural processes.
But just in case it wasn't due to the elements, there may be an alternative explanation.
Kolevatov had previously worked at a facility developing nuclear materials and Krivonischenko
had previously worked at a top-secret plutonium production plant for nuclear weapons.
And the three articles of radioactive clothing belonged to Kolevatov and Krivonischenko.
Around the time of the hikers disappearance, numerous sources claimed to have seen UFOs
in the form of orbs of light moving across the night sky for a few seconds up to several minutes.
These include three soldiers and two different hiking groups.
Some witnesses also claimed that the indigenous Mansi population as well as a group of geologists
had told them that they had observed fireballs in the sky around the time of the incident.
The problem with UFO sightings is that they are, well, unidentified and often unverifiable as a result.
Only one of the hiking groups reported to have seen a UFO during the night of the incident
while the other sightings occurred before or after.
Then there's this.
This is the very last photo taken with one of the hikers cameras.
It appears to be a photo of some type of light source taken in the middle of the night.
Unfortunately, the photo is about as undescriptive as the UFO it is claimed to depict.
It could, no doubt, be a photo of a UFO and it could, no doubt, be a photo of a candle,
flashlight, fire, stove, or anything else.
But let's assume that this is a photo of something in the night sky, what could it potentially be depicting?
I can think of a few possibilities.
A rocket, a piece of a rocket, man-made space debris during reentry,
a crashing aircraft, or perhaps a meteor.
None of which would be too surprising given that this is the Soviet Union in the middle
of the cold war as well as the space race.
So there would have been a lot of aerial activity.
At a time when space exploration was about as fresh as an prince living in an affluent
LA neighborhood, it's not surprising that people where unable to identify the mysterious lights.
Regardless, it could not have landed close to the hikers as it would've been found by the search teams.
And if the object had already been recovered, there should have been evidence in the form
of a crash site, footprints, and other activity on the ground.
So given the fact that there is no obvious connection between a UFO and the hikers disappearance,
I'll put this in the spooky red herring box.
So, what happened?
Why did they leave the tent?
Why was it slashed open from the inside?
How did some of them sustain such major injuries while the others simply succumbed to the cold?
Why where so many of them underdressed?
I think the biggest mystery is how it's been able to remain a mystery given the abundance of information.
So after spending the better part of this month hiring multiple Russian translators,
reading through a massive amount of material ranging from theories about a KGB cover-up
to a simple avalanche accident, this is what I believe to be the most credible explanation.
First of all, why would they leave the tent?
That seems to be the most important missing piece of the puzzle.
I would argue that the only thing that could make them leave would have to be an immediate
threat inside the tent.
If something was outside, such as an animal or a UFO, then there would be no reason to cut the tent open.
There where no signs of an avalanche, however, they could have escaped
believing an avalanche was tumbling towards them.
The problem with that theory is that the footprints showed them walking in a calm and orderly
manner down the slope as opposed to running away in panic.
So something caused them to panic inside the tent but once outside they calmed down and
made a conscious decision to walk down the slope.
Now, take a look at this photo.
The pipe sticking out of the tent entrance is the exhaust pipe of the internal stove.
This was a completely unique and homemade design as the leader of the group had built the stove himself.
We know they had used the stove on the night of incident before the incident took place
as partially eaten pieces of fried ham and bacon where found inside the tent.
I think that after dissembling the stove and removing the exhaust pipe, the embers inside
the stove was accidentally reignited.
As the exhaust pipe had been removed, the smoke would have filled the tent in seconds.
As they attempted to get control of the flame they cut a few holes at the top of the tent
to vent the smoke.
When that didn't work and it became increasingly difficult to breathe, the side of the tent
was slashed open and they all escaped in a state of panic.
There's even more evidence to support this theory.
Several members of the group where found with burn marks on both their bodies and clothing.
Which could definitely have been a result of the improvised fire under the tree
or perhaps a scolding hot metal stove.
Some of them were also found with blood around their mouth and coughing up blood could be
a symptom a smoke inhalation.
Then there's this photo, taken the day before the incident.
The jacket has obviously been burned but the question is how?
It's possible that sparks from stove had accidentally set the jacket aflame.
Okay, they make it outside and quickly realize what a terrible situation they're in.
Sub-zero temperatures, no shelter, underdressed, in the middle of a snowstorm,
in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere.
At this point, I think one or more of them made the decision to head for the nearest
shelter, which they would know to be the woods.
The reason for this decision is likely multifaceted.
The smoke from the tent could've made it impossible to stay within its proximity and/or the smoke
may have caused them to believe that the tent was on fire.
Some of them were intoxicated which could've effected their judgment as well as their sensibility to the cold.
And they may also have believed to be closer to the woods than they actually where.
So they finally reach the woods and immediately set out to make a fire.
Some climb the tree and scavenge the surrounding area while those who are more properly dressed
head a bit deeper into the woods.
About 75 meters from the tree, four of them trigger a minor avalanche taking them over
the edge of a ravine with a drop of about 3 meters.
As the bottom is filled with rocks and ice they sustain lethal injuries.
Three of the other five hikers decide to head back for the tent
while the remaining two slowly freeze to death around a fading flame.