In February 1959, a group of nine experienced Russian hikers ventured into the Ural Mountains for a skiing expedition. When they failed to return as scheduled, search parties were sent out to locate the group. What they discovered has puzzled investigators ever since.
The Hiking Group and Their Planned Route
The hiking group, led by 23-year-old Igor Dyatlov, consisted of eight men and two women, most of whom were students or graduates from the Ural Polytechnical Institute. Their destination was Otorten Mountain, which was an exceptionally challenging route given the harsh winter conditions.
The group arrived by train at Ivdel, located at the center of the northern province of Sverdlovsk Oblast in the Urals, on January 25. From there, they took a truck to Vizhai, the last inhabited settlement on their route. They began their hike on January 27 toward Gora Otorten, which means “Don’t Go There” in the local Mansi language.
Mysterious Deaths and Strange Injuries
On February 26, search parties discovered the first two bodies near the remains of a long-abandoned campfire under a looming Siberian pine tree. It quickly became clear that something devastating had happened to the hikers.
The bodies were shoeless and wearing only underwear. The branches of the old pine were broken up to five meters high, suggesting one of the skiers had climbed the tree. The searchers also discovered curious footprints around the pine, left by people wearing socks or barefoot.
When the remaining bodies were found, the autopsy reports compounded the mystery further. All of the hikers had died from hypothermia, but some also had inexplicable traumatic injuries like fractured skulls and broken ribs. One woman’s tongue was missing.
Forensic radiation tests later showed high doses of radioactive contamination on some of the victims’ clothes.
Theories on What Happened at Dyatlov Pass
The strange deaths and injuries have led to many theories over the years about what may have caused the Dyatlov Pass incident, including:
- Avalanche – An avalanche could have injured some of the hikers and forced them to flee their tents illequipped, leading to hypothermia deaths. But the campsite showed no signs of an avalanche.
- Infrasound-induced panic – Some speculate that high winds created ultra-low frequency sound waves (infrasound) that induced panic in the hikers, causing irrational behavior.
- Paradoxical undressing – The bare bodies could be explained by paradoxical undressing, when hypothermia victims begin to feel hot as their bodies start to shut down.
- Weapon testing – Radiation on the clothes led some to theorize secret Soviet weapons testing caused the deaths. But tests found radioisotope levels likely came from natural sources.
- Yeti attack – Articles of clothing were found to be highly damaged. Some theorize it was from a fight with local tribesmen or even an attack by a Yeti. No evidence supports this.
- UFO encounter – Bright flying spheres seen by other hikers in the region led to speculation of UFO interference. There’s no evidence of this.
Why a Definitive Explanation Remains Elusive
The Mitrinoviita group, as they are known, set up camp on the slopes of Kholat Syakhl (Dead Mountain), in a barely inhabited wooded-steppe and taiga area. The spot offered no obvious threats or dangers.
Some key evidence from the scene and bodies was likely missed given the remote location and lack of proper forensic tools at the time.
With no survivors or eyewitness accounts, the sequence of events that led to the tragic demise of the nine experienced hikers remains unclear. The Dyatlov Pass incident continues to spawn more theories than definitive answers.
Key Questions Around the Incident
Here are some key questions that remain around the baffling Dyatlov Pass incident:
Q: Why did the hikers flee their tent in a panic, undressed and without supplies?
A: It is unknown what exactly caused them to rush out of their tent. Some theories point to an avalanche scare or auditory hallucinations from infrasound waves.
Q: What explains the major blunt force injuries, like fractured skulls?
A: While avalanches or falls could account for some injuries, others would have required major force equivalent to a car crash. The source remains unclear.
Q: Why was the tent found cut open from the inside?
A: The hikers slashed their way out of their tent in a hurried panic instead of exiting through the entrance. This suggests a terrifying threat was inside the tent.
Q: How did the radioactive contamination get on their clothes?
A: Minor traces of radioactivity found are believed to have come from natural sources. There is no solid evidence linking it to human nuclear activity.
Q: Could a Yeti or men from local tribes have attacked them?
A: There is no persuasive evidence that another group of humans or unknown creatures attacked the hikers. The injuries do not conclusively point to an attack.
Q: Why was the investigation closed so abruptly?
A: With no survivors, the Soviet investigators likely saw it as a futile case. The quick closure has fueled conspiracy theories of a cover-up ever since.
The Dyatlov Pass incident continues to intrigue both mystery lovers and scientists. Without more tangible evidence, the exact chain of events that led to the nine deaths will likely remain open to speculation. The tragic fate of the hikers will probably never be fully resolved.