I’ve known about the Dyatlov Pass Incident for quite some time. I first stumbled over it on SomethingAwful.com’s forums about five or six years ago. From time to time someone will mention it and I’ll have to go read about it all over again. So, to save myself some time and to entertain anyone reading, here’s a bit of background on one of the most unusual murder mysteries in modern history.
The incident occurred on February 2, 1959, in eastern foothills of a mountain named Kholat Syakhl in Russia. Kholat Syakhl, by the way, translates to “Mountain of Death”. The pass where the incident occurred has subsequently been named Dyatlov Pass after the leader of the expedition that went missing on that fateful evening in 1959.
Ten hikers were involved in the incident, a tourist group on a ski hike across the northern Urals. There were eight men, including the group leader, Igor Dyatlov, and two women, and they set out from the village of Vizhai on January 27th, bound for Otorten, another village across the mountains. The group was made up mostly of students from Ural State Technical University, and all were accomplished skiers and mountain hikers. The path they were taking was considered a “level III”, the most difficult, but it was well known and mapped.
Authorities eventually discovered journals and cameras which helped to fill in the period of time between the group leaving Vizhai and the establishing of a camp on the side of Kholat Syakhl. One member of the group, the only survivor, Yuri Yudin, was forced to return to Vizhai on the 28th due to illness. The group apparently drifted off course, most likely due to snowstorms and limited visibility, and were forced to make camp in the shadow to the mountain.
The events of the evening of February 2nd aren’t entirely clear. Unfortunately, the party wasn’t considered overdue until February 12th, and a search party wasn’t formed until family and relatives complained enough and the investigation began on February 20th.
When the camp on the mountain side was found on February 26th, the tent was in tatters, empty, and a line of footprints led down into a nearby forest. They discovered the remains of a fire under a pine tree, and huddled around it were the first two corpses: Yuri Krivonischenko and Yuri Doroshenko. Both men were naked save for their underwear.
The investigators found three more corpses between the tree and the camp, including that of Dyatlov himself. They appeared to have been trying to make their way back to the tent, but each died before they reached the camp. The remaining four hikers were not discovered for two months; on May 4th their bodies were discovered under four meters of snow in a ravine some distance away, past the pine tree.
Of the first five corpses found, only one showed any injury; one man had a small, seemingly non-fatal skull fracture. Hypothermia was ruled as the cause of death. The other four bodies, however, painted a much different picture.
Three of the four corpses in the ravine had fatal injuries. One man had a severely fractured skull, and the two others had major damage to their rib-cages, crushed as if by some extreme weight. The injuries looked, in fact, like the three had been in a car crash, though that was impossible. There were no tracks found near the bodies other than those of the four victims, and there were no signs of a physical struggle. In addition to having her chest caved in, Lyudmila Dubinina had also had her tongue cut out.
As the investigation continued, other strange facts came to light. The tent, which had been badly damaged, had been torn apart from the inside. There were no signs of anyone or anything in the vicinity, but it appeared that the hikers had rushed from the tent, most only partially dressed. There were no signs of a struggle, and the tracks showed each hiker left the camp on their own. Additionally, some of the corpses showed high levels of radiation when examined, far more than would be considered normal, though not at lethal levels. One investigator reported that his dosimeter had registered a spike in radiation on the mountain, but no source could be found.
The strangeness doesn’t end there. Family and friends at the funerals claimed that the hikers all had unusually orange skin tones. Unusual scrap metal was discovered in the area, possibly the remnants of military exercises. A number of “spheres” were reported in the area, essentially UFOs, by both meteorologists and military observers. Additionally, the number nine seems to play a role – myths of the Mansi people claim that nine of their people died on the mountain. Nine others were killed not far from the campsite in an airplaine crash in 1991.
In the end, no one really knows what drove the nine hikers from their tent on that lethally cold night in 1958. Native Mansi attacks and military cover-ups seem unlikely considering the lack of any prints other than those of the hikers themselves. What could have so frightened nine people, all experienced mountaineers, into abandoning their tent in the middle of the night, and what caused the injuries that killed three of the four people found in the ravine? Why was one woman’s tongue cut from her mouth? What madness gripped this party camping on the snowy slopes of the “Mountain of Death”?
Yuri Yudin would like to know. Asked about the incident, he replied, “If I had a chance to ask God just one question, it would be, ‘What really happened to my friends that night?'”