What Happened To The Dyatlov Nine?
Something happened in Russia in 1959 that has people mystified and intrigued to this day. It was called the Dyatlov Pass Incident and it remains one of the most enduring mysteries in this world of skepticism and debunking, a mystery that has yet to be solved, a mystery that will probably never be solved.
The facts of this case are surprisingly well documented and include photographs and numerous written accounts, both from those involved and those who investigated the incident. This is what is known for sure. Ten students from the Ural State Technical Institute, located in Sverdlovsk (currently known as Ekaterinburg) Russia embarked on a journey to climb Mount Otorten, located in Siberia. This mountain’s name comes from the language of the indigenous people who live in this area known as the Mansi and literally means “Don’t Go There”. The particular peek they were to climb was called Kholat Syakhl, or Mountain Of Death. The Mansi legend of this mountain stated that nine Mansi warriors set off on a hunting trip there and never returned. Their bodies were discovered days later by the rest of the tribe. The mountain was considered cursed and haunted ever since.
The climb to be undertaken by the students was to span 350 km and was to take a little more than two weeks. It was a category III climb, the most difficult. All of the participants were experienced skiers and they were lead by a 23-year-old engineering student named Igor Dyatlov. Here is a list of the names of the skiers and their ages, seven men and two women.
Igor Alekseievich Dyatlov (Игорь Алексеевич Дятлов), the group’s leader, 23
Zinaida Alekseievna Kolmogorova (Зинаида Алексеевна Колмогорова), 22
Lyudmila Alexandrovna Dubinina (Людмила Александровна Дубинина), 21
Alexander Sergeievich Kolevatov (Александр Сергеевич Колеватов), 25
Rustem Vladimirovich Slobodin (Рустем Владимирович Слободин), 23
Yuri Alexeievich Krivonischenko (Юрий Алексеевич Кривонищенко), 24
Yuri Nikolaievich Doroshenko (Юрий Николаевич Дорошенко), 21
Nicolai Vladimirovich Thibeaux-Brignolles 23
Alexander Alexandrovich Zolotariov (Александр Александрович Золотарёв), 37
Yuri Yefimovich Yudin (Юрий Ефимович Юдин), 21
The group reached the last inhabited settlement after a long journey via train and truck on January 26th and set out on skis the following day. On January 28, Yuri Yudin was forced to turn back due to illness. He would be the only survivor of this ill fated exhibition. Photographs of the two women in the group, Zinaida and Lyudmilla, embracing Yuri and saying goodbye, are a poignant and give no hint of the horror to come.
On January 31 the group arrived at the base of a series of foothills and stashed supplies for their return journey. Lyudmila was the shutterbug of the gang and she took most of the surviving photographs of the groups trek. A daily diary was also kept and added to by various members. In the ensuing days, everything seemed normal, even light hearted. Photographs show happy, smiling, casual people, well prepared for the harsh elements and seemingly enjoying themselves. The diary depicts tranquil scenes of days trekking along the wilderness, making steady progress, and nights sitting around a campfire, talking about love, singing Russian folk songs and playing the mandolin. Occasionally there is a note or two about the native Mansi tribes that inhabit the region, but nothing menacing, just a respectful interest in their culture and the tribal markings that they occasionally comes across. They appeared to be following an old Mansi trail the last two days of their journey. There is also a lot of talk about how cold and frigid the temperatures are, -17 during the day and -26 at night. The last entry in the journal is written by Dyatlov and talks about harsh weather conditions that prevented the group from making much progress on January 31. Dyatlov writes of exhaustion setting in and being unable to even dig a pit for their fire. Could this be a clue?
On the last day of their journey, the group is only able to walk a couple of miles before being forced to set up camp. Some investigators involved with the case expressed surprised at the location of the tent, high on an exposed plane and not sheltered at all from the elements. It was thought that the group simply did not have the energy or desire to backtrack further down to a more suitable site and loose ground for the following days climb. It seems, if the journal is accurate, that the group was possibly becoming over taxed due to a gradual worsening of the weather or simply loosing strength due to the constant, daily climbing. Evidence shows that two members left the tent after dinner to urinate. The two men who were found more decently dressed by investigators were probably the ones who had gotten up to go relieve themselves earlier, Alexander Zoltariov and Nicolai Thibeaux. Something then occurred that caused all nine of these people to throw out all of their experienced training and everything they had ever learned about survival in the wilderness, slash a whole in the side of their tent and flee without the benefit of shoes, coats, hats or supplies, into the unsurvivable elements of the Siberian winter night, where they would eventually all parish. The official Russian explanation called that something “a compelling unknown force” and forever after, the Dyatlov Incident would become one of the most enduring mysteries of modern times.
When the Dyatlov skiers failed to send a telegraph to their sports club announcing their imminent return, the lack of communication was dismissed as a natural delay. It was only after the families of the nine missing tourists demanded a search be organized that one was finally begun on February 20th. What searchers found, six days later, has been the subject of much debate for fifty-four years. After days of finding nothing, on February 26th, the searches finally came across the camp of the Dyatlov 9. Their tent and most of their belongings were still there. The tent was partially collapsed and inside was all the supplies necessary to survive, including most of their warm clothing, shoes, hats, food and tools. Also found were cameras and one journal. Most disturbing, the tent had been slashed open on the side from the inside. Footprints of eight or nine people were found leading away from the tent in what appeared to be an organized manner. Some veered off but eventually returned to the path. Under a tall cedar tree the first two bodies were found. It was Yuri Krivonishenko and Yuri Doroshenko, laying side by side and wearing almost no clothes. It became clear that some of their clothes had been removed, even cut off of them. There was also the remains of a fire near by and the branches of the cedar had been broken off up to a height of 15 feet. Traces of human flesh and blood were found in the tree. A few hundred meters from the cedar lay the body of Igor Dyatlov, the leader of the group. He lay on his back, his hands thrown up in front of his face, his head pointed toward the abandoned camp. Just 500 meters from Dyatlov was the body of Zinaida Kholmogorova, laying face down in the snow. Her head was also pointed toward the camp. Months later, the body of Rustem Slobodin would be discovered between these two bodies, also apparently dying while attempting to get back to the camp. All of these bodies showed bruising consistent with being in a fight and one showed a minor skull fracture. Cause of death in all five cases was listed as hypothermia.
It would not be until May that the other four bodies would be discovered. After the spring thaw, the four were found lying in a shallow ravine about half a mile away from the cedar tree. These bodies were far more seriously damaged, sustaining major skull fractures, gaping open wounds with exposed bone, multiple broken ribs, heart atrium ruptures and in the case of Lydudmila, a missing tongue. These injuries were severe enough for the coroner to classify three of the deaths as likely caused by trauma and not hypothermia. One investigator said no living being could have caused these impact injuries and that they were more consistent with a car crash. Despite the seriousness of the wounds, no external trauma was found on the skin of the victims. Someone said it was as if they were hugged too tight, crushing their bones and internal organs as a result.
It was also reported, though these reports remain hearsay, that many of the victims bodies were of a strange orange or tan color and that some of them had white hair and showed signs of premature aging.
Theories abound as to what possibly could have caused nine experienced cross-country skiers to flee their only means of survival in the harsh winter elements of Siberia and make a run for it. Some feel that they thought they heard an avalanche approaching and became panicked, slashing open their tent and ran blindly into the night. The problem with this theory is that there were no outward signs of an avalanche. Also, avalanches are not that uncommon in this region and surely this group was experienced enough to have a plan in place for such an emergency that did not include ditching everything and running into the night without even any shoes on. Why cut the tent to leave, instead of going out the front? Also, why would they try to make camp under a cedar tree and wait there for an estimated two hours if they were simply fleeing from an avalanche? Why climb the tree repeatedly to check on the abandoned camp, as the evidence suggests?
Then there is the secret weapons testing theory that holds that the Russians were testing some kind of weapon out there and the skiers stumbled on the site by accident and were murdered. Of coarse, this theory completely ignores the fact that most of the nine died of hypothermia, not trauma and absolutely no traces of anyone else in the region were discovered. Strange orange lights were reported in the sky and some have suggested these were the lights of this mysterious weapon that the Soviets were testing. Could the secret weapon itself have injured the skiers? All of the bodies did show trace amounts of radiation, a fact that has no logical explanation. The Soviets only added fuel to the fire by being so secretive about this case and sealing the file on it for more than thirty years. Why be so secretive? Was it just in their nature? There is also talk that a few key items that were found in the tent and booked into evidence have since gone missing, including a mysterious envelope, at least one camera and the personal journal of Kolevatov, whom Yuriy Yurdin, the only survivor, had testified was with him on the trip.
One theory the investigators considered early on was that Mansi natives attacked the skiers for being on what they considered sacred Mansi land. This is a plausible theory, as the Mansi had been known to engage in this type of behavior before. Eventually, however, investigators rejected it for the following reasons; nothing of value was scavenged from the tent. Several Mansi participated in the search. This mountain, as discussed before, was not considered sacred by these people but cursed or haunted. It was called Do Not Go There. No Mansi tracks were found at the scene. These were also the reasons given for rejecting the theory that criminals had attacked the group.
Of coarse, there’s the UFO, Aliens theory. Can’t really prove or disprove this, except to say that even E.T has feet and there were no other tracks found at the scene. The tops of the trees were burned, and some of the bodies showed signs of burn injuries as well. There were those orange lights sited in the night sky in the vicinity of the camp. The accepted theory is that these lights were the entrails of the R-7 intercontinental missile launches being conducted at that time. The problem with the UFO theory is that it’s highly unlike Aliens to have left such a mess. They usually abduct people cleanly, then set them back down again, with their memories wiped, or so legend has it. Or they make pretty crop circles and go away. Why would beings that were intelligent enough to master intergalactic travel randomly terrorize and murder some cross-country skiers in Russia? They wanted that tongue? Really? And speaking of the missing tongue, was it really ripped out, as many have said? Or did it naturally degrade? Lyudmila’s body was found with her head thrown back and her mouth wide open, as if in mid scream. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that her tongue simply degraded or was scavenged by predators after death. Remember, her body wasn’t discovered for another three months after the initial bodies were found. What is more intriguing is the fact that she seemed to be in mid scream when she died. She died from a combination of severe injuries, including a massive rupture to her hearts right atrium and many broken ribs.
Then there’s the paranormal theory, which is not really taken seriously by anyone but paranormal enthusiasts. This theory holds that the Mansi were indeed right, that this mountain and this peek were haunted by unknown paranormal forces, which is why the Mansi gave it the name Mountain Of Death. In this theory, it is believed that something of an extreme paranormal nature occurred just after the group had had their dinner and were preparing to settle in for the night. This unknown event happened right outside their tent and so frightened these nine experienced outdoorsmen that they temporarily lost their minds, cut a hole in the side of their tent and ran for their lives. Whatever occurred had to be shocking and unusual enough to cause such an extreme reaction in these people, who, by all accounts, were not prone to delusions or flights of fancy. Speculation as to what that event could have been ranges from vengeful apparitions of evil Mansi spirits to a demonic entity emerging from the blackness of the Siberian wilderness to snow monsters or a Yeti. Some even believe it was an unknown event, unique, possibly never experienced before or since.
This is a mystery that despite a thorough investigation and a plethora of clues, remains just that, a mystery. All that is known for sure is that nine people walked into the wilderness and advanced on a peek known as The Mountain Of Death, and all nine never walked out again. Something terrified these people so badly that it caused them to abandon all training and reason and flee to a near by incline and tree, where they tried to save themselves, but were unsuccessful. They stayed there for two hours, rather than attempt to go back to the relative safety of their camp. Only when death had already claimed two of their members, did three even attempt to return to the camp. Most died of exposure but four showed significant bodily trauma and three died from those injuries. Therefor, the nagging question is still asked today… What Happened to the Dyatlov Nine?