The Dyatlov Pass Incident - Part 1 - Mountain of the Dead
Part one of a two-part series on the Dyatlov Pass Incident, a mysterious event that claimed the lives of nine Russian hikers in 1959 that remains unexplained to this day.
Using legit research materials from both English and Russian sources, in the first part, we tell the full story of the incident, from the events leading up to the fateful night on the slopes of the mountain of the dead to the autopsy reports months later.
Primary Russian source material – Really a one stop shop when you want to look deeply at the Dyatlov case.
The Dyatlov Pass Incident – Part 1 – Mountain of the Dead
In 1959, a group of 9 experienced Russian ski hikers trekking through the Ural Mountains were the victims of an unexplained disaster that left no survivors. Eerily, the area of the incident was called Kolat-Syakhl, or in English, The mountain of the dead. To this day there is still no concrete explanation for what happened to the party, however, theories range from an avalanche to secret military testing, from UFOs to an animal attack and things stranger still. Though sensationalised over the years to bolster certain claims, the story at its core still remains a mystery. Here we tell the story, as it happened, of what has become known as the Dyatlov Pass incident. This is dark histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.
Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russia. 1959
In 1959, Soviet Russia was a vast, sprawling landscape, from the city of Moscow to the snow-capped mountains of Siberia. Many people were interested in exploring the wilderness, for sport and adventure. Known as ski tourism, trekking on skis through challenging terrain was a popular past time amongst many young people. A group of hikers, formed of students and graduates of Ural Polytechnical Institute, were planning one such trip in January of 1959. The groups’ main goal was to reach the mountain of Ortorten, amongst the Ural Mountains on the Siberian border. Although the mountains were a gentle climb, the weather would average -15 degrees C and the planned trail was described as category 3, the most difficult to traverse, demanding a very high level of fitness. All members of the group were well experienced and qualified to take on the route, however, and the atmosphere as they stepped onto the train that would take them North from Sverdlosk was relaxed and easy going, prepared for the adventure ahead.
The trekking group was 10 strong, 8 men and 2 women. All but one of them were students or graduates of Ural Polytechnical Institute.
Igor Dyatlov was the leader of the group, he was 23 years old, a radio enthusiast and studying engineering. A keen inventor, he had built a radio and portable stove for hikers and carried the stove on the trip. He was reportedly dating Zinaida Kolmogorova, another student on the expedition.
Alexander Kolevatov was 24 years old and a student of nuclear physics. He had transferred to Ural Polytechnical Institute in his second year from the All Union Polytechnical Insitute. Prior to joining Ural Polytechnical Institute, he had worked for a secret soviet institute whose purpose was to supervise the Soviet nuclear industry.
Alexander Zolotaryov was the only member not affiliated with the university. He was 38 years old, a hiking instructor and WW2 veteran. He joined the team in order to add points to his degree, allowing him to gain the rank of Master instructor.
Yuri Krivonishchenko was 23 years old. He was a construction and hydraulics student and the joker of the group. He played the mandolin and took it on many hikes, including this one.
Lyudmila Dubinina was 20 years old. She was the youngest of the group, a dedicated communist studying economics. On a previous hike, she had been accidentally shot by a fellow hiker who was cleaning his gun.
Nikolay Thibault-Brignoles was 23 years old. He was a graduate of Ural Polytechnical Institute, where he had studied civil construction. The son of a French communist, he was born in a concentration camp for political prisoners. He was often noted to be taking care of other hikers on previous trips and had promised his parents that this would be his last expedition.
Rustem Slobodin was 23 years old and another graduate, he was born in Moscow to an affluent family and had studied Mechanical Engineering.
Yuri Doroshenko was 21 years old. He was a radio engineering student. He had gained infamy around the university for having charged down a giant bear with nothing but a geologists hammer on a previous camping trip. He was previously in a relationship with Zinaida Kolmogorova, who was now dating Igor Dyatlov, though kept good relationships with both.
Zinaida Kolmogorova was 22 years old. She was a radio engineering student. She was outgoing and lively, well-liked around the school. On a previous trip, she had been bitten by a viper but continued regardless.
Yuri Yudin was 21 years old, he was an economics student and suffered from rheumatism. An infliction he would become thankful for, as we shall soon see.
23rd-31st January 1959 – Into the wild
On the 23rd January, the group left Sverdlosk and travelled some 200 miles North by train to the city of Ivdel, arriving at midnight on the 25th January. They stayed the night before then travelling by truck, further north, to the Northern frontier town of Vizhal, where they arrived at 4:30 pm and again stayed the night and prepared to begin their trek towards Ortorten the next day, the 27th January. Before leaving, Igor Dyatlov agreed with the sports club that the group would send a telegram confirming their safe return to Vizhal no later than February 12th. They borrowed horses for the first leg of the trek that would take them to an abandoned geologists village. They stayed the night in the abandoned village, however, Yuri Yudin fell ill and after collecting a few minerals for the university the next morning, he left the group and returned to Vizhal. This turn of events makes Yuri Yudin the only surviving member of the expedition. The group is now 9, 7 men and 2 women.
The group continued to travel along the river until the 31st January, the cold weather dropped to -24 degrees C at night and they estimated their travel time to be around 1 mile per hour. On the 31st of January, they left the river and made for the base of the Kolat-Syakhl mountain, the local indigenous tribe called Mansi named the mountain, its meaning in English can be translated as Mountain of the dead. In a diary that the group was collectively keeping, the final entry is written.
“Wind is not strong, snow cover is 1,22 m. Tired and exhausted we started the preparations for the night. Not enough firewood. Frail damp firs. We started fire with logs, too tired to dig a fire pit. We had supper right in the tent. It’s warm. It is hard to imagine such a comfort somewhere on the ridge, with a piercing wind, hundreds of kilometers away from human settlements.”
1st February, 1959 – Mountain of the dead
The group left the camp base late on the 1st February, leaving some of their gear behind on a raised platform that they could collect on their return trip. They walked just 2 and a half miles before setting up camp on the slopes of Kolat-Syakhl, just 10 miles from their destination of Ortorten. Around 6 or 7pm they ate dinner. Tired but in good spirits, they prepared to sleep for the night. They were not to be seen alive again.
20th February, 1959 – Search & Rescue
As the days passed, the 12th of February came and went. Despite Igor Dyatlovs promise to telegram the school no later than the 12th, deadlines for returns were frequently missed on such trips and so no one had any reason for undue concern. There had been reports of heavy snowstorms around the area they were known to be trekking, and most assumed the group had taken shelter for several days, delaying their trip. Dyatlov himself had told Yuri Yudin before he left the group to return to Vizhal that he expected the return to be later than the 12th. And so it was that no one paid much mind to the groups silence until the 20th February, when members of the expeditions family insisted to the local head of the communist party that they needed to send out a search team. The first groups sent out were student and teacher volunteers lead by the head of the military department of the ural polytechincal institute, Colonel Georgy Semenovich Ortyukov. They had little luck on their own and the military became involved with the search a few days later. On the 25th February, a ski trail was finally found and presumed to be that of Dyatlovs group.
26th February, 1959
They followed up the ski trail and the next day, the 26th February, the search and rescue crews discovered the tents of Dyatlovs group on the slopes of Kolat-Syakhl. The tents were found ripped and torn, with gaping holes in their sides. Upon investigation, they concluded that the tents had been cut open from the inside. The tents contained all of the groups belongings, including money, clothing and boots. They found footprints leading away from the tents that seemed to show people walking barefoot in a calm and orderly manner. Outside of the tent they found a pair of skis sticking out of the snow, an ice pick and Igor Dyatlovs jacket. They also found Dyatlovs flashlight and upon turning it on, found that it was in working condition. The following day, the 27th February, search & rescue teams followed the barefoot trails leading down the mountainside towards the edge of a forested area and found the remains of a small fire below a large cedar tree. The trees branches were all torn off upwards of 15 feet from the ground. Later forensic investigation of the tree found traces of skin embedded in the tree bark. Near to the fire, they found the two bodies of Yuri Doroshenko and Yuri Krivonischenko. Both had no footwear, Doroshenko was wearing a short sleeved shirt and shorts, along with socks on both feet, whilst Krivonishenko was found wearing a long sleeved shirt, underwear and only one sock on his left foot. Soon after the search team discovered three more bodies between the cedar and the tent, those of Igor Dyatlov, Zinaida Kolmogorova and Rustem Slobodin. Dyatlov was found dressed, but without shoes, wearing one woolen sock and one cotton sock, his fists were clenched in front of his chest. Zinaida was better dressed, wearing several sweaters and three pairs of socks, though again, had no footwear and Rustem Slobodin, also better dressed wore several layers of clothing and one felt boot on his right foot. It was to be several months before the rest of the bodies were found, once the thaw had set in and the snow began to melt.
4th May 1959 –
Once the snow had melted, the search and rescue team finally uncovered the lost 4 bodies from the Dyatlov expedition. They were found under four metres of snow, in a ravine 75 metres further into the woods from the cedar tree. Alexander Zolotaryov, Nikolay Thibeaux-Brignolles, Alexander Kolevatov and Ludmila Dubinina bodies were all well dressed and found in an improvised, man made shelter. Alexander Zolotaryov was found wearing a hat, scarf, several layers of clothing as well as leather hand made shoes. He had a pen in one hand and a notepad in the other. Curiously, he had a camera under his clothing. Though the film was water damaged, it was his second camera and Yuri Yedin later mentioned that no one seemed to have any knowledge of the cameras existence on the trip. Nikolai Thibeaux-Brignolles wore a hat,scarf, several layers of clothing and felt shoes. Alexander Kolevatov had no hat or shoes, however he had several pairs of socks and several layers of clothing. Lyudmila Dubinanas was wearing two sweaters, one of which belonged to Krivonischenko, one of the expedition members found dead by the cedar tree. She had apparently improvised footwear by cutting a sweater into halves and wrapped them around her feet, although only the half on her left foot remained.
The investigation into the deaths concluded that they had all died 6-8 hours after their last meal, around 11:30-1:30 am. Had all left the tents of their own accord and no other people had been around the site. There were no survivors, six of the members had died of hypothermia, whilst three had suffered fatal injuries, though they were not inflicted by another human being. Many of the injuries, including all on the hypothermia victims, were reportedly received during ‘agony of death’. The investigation’s conclusions however, did not tell even half of the story.
The Autopsy reports
The autopsy reports of the nine bodies make grim reading. Not simple hypothermia victims, in contrast, many of the bodies had severe wounds and there were many strange details that were not sufficiently commented on during the autopsy reports.
Yuri Doroshenkos underwear was badly ripped. He had livor mortis spots on the back of his neck, which were not consistent with the way in which his body was found. This meant that his body had to have been moved after his death. The hair on the right side of his head was burnt and he had blood on his ears, nose and lips. He had upwards of 10 various bruises and abrasions throughout his body, including shoulders, armpit, arms and legs. His right cheek was covered in a grey foam coming from his open mouth, suggesting a force of some kind upon his chest. Cause of death was listed as Hypothermia.
Yuri Krivonishchenkos body had several bruises and abrasions, along with bruises on his head. He had apparently chewed off part of the back of his right hand. Cause of death was listed as hypothermia.
Igor Dyatlovs body had bruises and abrasions on his face, ankles and knees as well as bruises on the backs of his hand and knuckles. Cause of death was listed as hypothermia.
Zinaida Kologorovas body had several bruises and abrasions on her face, missing skin on the back of her right hand and a 29cm long, bright red bruise on the lumbar region of the right side of her torso.Cause of death was listed as hypothermia.
Rustem Slobodins body had bruises and abrasions on his face, haemorrhages of his temporal muscles on his head, blood from his nose, bruises on the backs of his hands and knuckles and a fracture of the frontal bone fo his skull. Cause of death was listed as hypothermia.
Alexander Zolotaryovs body was found with eyeballs missing, missing soft tissue around his left brow, with bone exposed, an open wound on the right side of his skull and ribs 2,3,4,5 and 6 on the right side were broken. Cause of death was listed as fatal injuries.
Nicolas Thibeaux-Brignollels body had multiple skull fractures, centring around the temporal region but extending around his skull and a haemorrhage on his right forearm. Cause of death was listed as fatal injuries.
Alexander Kolevatovs body had a lack of soft tissue around his eyes, with his skull exposed, a broken nose, an open wound behind his left ear, and a deformed neck. Cause of death was listed as hypothermia.
Ludmila Dubininas body had missing soft tissue around the nose, eyes and cheeks, damaged tissue around the left temporal bone, missing eyeballs, broken and flattened nose, missing tongue. Her right side ribs 2,3,4 and 5 were broken and on the left, 2,3,4,5,6 and 7 ribs were all broken. She had a massive haemorrhage in the hearts right atrium. She also had blood in her stomach, suggesting that her tongue was removed whilst she was still alive, though there is evidence that this was also caused by natural phenomena. Cause of death was listed as fatal injuries.
Curioser & curioser
Many of the injuries could be attributed to animals scavenging, however, the presence of blood shows that they would have happened prior to death, not after. The bruises on several of the members back of hands and knuckles are not consistent with falling, whereby you would expect the palms to be injured and the head and rib injuries are often extreme. The doctor who inspected the bodies said that the forces that caused the injuries exceeded that capable of another human and were equal to the effect of a car crash. Many of the doctors reports showed higher than normal levels of radiation on many of the items of clothing. Strange details, such as Dyatlovs jacket being taken off outside of the tent, his flashlight, in working order discarded and cameras that were there going missing, whilst other cameras not known to be there showing up raise questions, aside from the largest question of all, what made the group leave their tent, in the dead of night in such a hurry as to have them all in various states of dress, cutting themselves out through the side of their tents and then would cause all of the injuries? The biggest clues were the rolls of film and diary found at the camp site allowing us to piece together the events leading up to the fateful night, and perhaps, in the case of the rolls of film, giving us clues as to what may have happened to the expedition. The official investigations final conclusion was that “a compelling natural force” had caused the deaths, though for three years after the incident, the pass was closed to tourists. The inquest was wrapped up quietly and all files were sent to an archive, where they were only uncovered 31 years later, in 1990. So what did happen on the mountain of death that night? In the next episode we will take a look at the theories ranging from natural phenomena and conspiracy, to the strange and bizarre.
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