My special guest is author and researcher Keith McCloskey who's here to discuss the carnage found in the remote Ural Mountains of Russia that still remains a terrifying mystery.
The Dyatlov Pass incident resulted in nine unsolved, mysterious deaths; Keith McCloskey attempts to decipher the bizzare events that led up to that night and the subsequent aftermathIn January 1959, 10 experienced young skiers set out to travel to a mountain named Mount Otorten in the far north of Russia. Otorten translates to "don't go there" in the local Mansi language. During the trip, one of the skiers fell ill and returned. The remaining nine lost their way and ended up on another mountain slope known as Kholat Syakhl, or "Mountain of the Dead." On the night of February 1, 1959, something or someone caused the skiers to flee their tent in terror, using knives to slash their way out instead of using the entrance. When they failed to return home, search parties were sent out and their bodies were found, some with massive internal injuries but all without external marks. The autopsy report showed that the injuries were caused by "an unknown compelling force." Subsequently, the area was sealed off for years by the authorities and the deaths and events of that night remained unexplained. Benefiting from original research carried out in Russia, this book attempts to explain what happened to the nine skiers who lost their lives in what has come to be known as the "Dyatlov Pass Incident."
Dyatlov Pass incidentThe group's tomb at the Mikhailovskoe Cemetery in Yekaterinburg, Russia, in 2012Native nameГибель тургруппы ДятловаDate1–4 February 1959LocationKholat Syakhl, Northern Urals, Russian SFSR, Soviet UnionCoordinates61°45′16″N 59°26′42″ECoordinates: 61°45′16″N 59°26′42″EType9 deathsCausePhysical trauma and hypothermiaOutcomeArea closed for 3 yearsDeaths9 trekkers from the Ural Polytechnical Institute
- 6 due to hypothermia
- 2 due to physical chest trauma
- 1 due to a fractured skull
The Dyatlov Pass incident (Russian: гибель тургруппы Дятлова, transl. "Death of the Dyatlov Group") was an event in which nine Soviet hikers died in the northern Ural Mountains between February 1 and 2, 1959, in uncertain circumstances. The experienced trekking group from the Ural Polytechnical Institute, led by Igor Dyatlov, had established a camp on the eastern slopes of Kholat Syakhl in the Russian SFSR of the Soviet Union. Overnight, something caused them to cut their way out of their tent and flee the campsite while inadequately dressed for the heavy snowfall and sub-zero temperatures.
After the group's bodies were discovered, an investigation by Soviet authorities determined that six of them had died from hypothermia while the other three had been killed by physical trauma. One victim had major skull damage, two had severe chest trauma, and another had a small crack in his skull. Four of the bodies were found lying in running water in a creek, and three of these four had damaged soft tissue of the head and face – two of the bodies had missing eyes, one had a missing tongue, and one had missing eyebrows. The investigation concluded that a "compelling natural force" had caused the deaths. Numerous theories have been put forward to account for the unexplained deaths, including animal attacks, hypothermia, an avalanche, katabatic winds, infrasound-induced panic, military involvement, or some combination of these factors.
Russia opened a new investigation into the incident in 2019, and its conclusions were presented in July 2020: that an avalanche had led to the deaths. Survivors of the avalanche had been forced to suddenly leave their camp in low-visibility conditions with inadequate clothing, and had died of hypothermia. Andrey Kuryakov, deputy head of the regional prosecutor's office, said: "It was a heroic struggle. There was no panic. But they had no chance to save themselves under the circumstances." A study led by scientists from EPFLand ETH Zürich, published in 2021, suggested that a type of avalanche known as a slab avalanche could explain some of the trekkers' injuries.
A mountain pass in the area was later named "Dyatlov Pass" in memory of the group. In many languages, the incident is now referred to as the "Dyatlov Pass incident". However, the incident occurred about 1,700 metres (5,600 ft) away, on the eastern slope of Kholat Syakhl. A prominent rock outcrop in the area now serves as a memorial to the group. It is located about 500 metres (1,600 ft) to the east-southeast of the actual site of the final camp.
In 1959, a group was formed for a skiing expedition across the northern Urals in Sverdlovsk Oblast, Soviet Union. According to Prosecutor Tempalov, documents that were found in the tent of the expedition suggest that the expedition was named for the 21st Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and was possibly dispatched by the local Komsomol organisation. Igor Dyatlov, a 23-year-old radio engineering student at the Ural Polytechnical Institute (now Ural Federal University), the leader, assembled a group of nine others for the trip, most of whom were fellow students and peers at the university. The initial group consisted of eight men and two women, but as noted below one member started the hike but later turned back due to health issues. Each member of the group was an experienced Grade II-hiker with ski tour experience and would be receiving Grade III certification upon their return. At the time, Grade III was the highest certification available in the Soviet Union and required candidates to traverse 300 kilometres (190 mi).The route was designed by Dyatlov's group to reach the far northern regions of the Sverdlovsk Oblast and the upper streams of the Lozva river. The route was approved by the Sverdlovsk city route commission. This was a division of the Sverdlovsk Committee of Physical Culture and Sport, and they confirmed the group of 10 people on January 8, 1959. The goal of the expedition was to reach Otorten (Отортен), a mountain 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) north of the site where the incident occurred. This route, estimated as Category III, was undertaken in February, the most difficult time to traverse.
On 23 January 1959, the Dyatlov group was issued their route book, which listed their course as following the No.5 trail. At that time, the Sverdlovsk City Committee of Physical Culture and Sport listed approval for 11 people. The 11th person listed was Semyon Zolotaryov, who was previously certified to go with another expedition of similar difficulty (the Sogrin expedition group). The Dyatlov group left Sverdlovsk city (today Yekaterinburg) on the same day they received the route book.
A legal inquest started immediately after the first five bodies were found. A medical examination found no injuries that might have led to their deaths, and it was concluded that they had all died of hypothermia. Slobodin had a small crack in his skull, but it was not thought to be a fatal wound.
An examination of the four bodies found in May shifted the narrative of the incident. Three of the hikers had fatal injuries: Thibeaux-Brignolles had major skull damage, and Dubinina and Zolotaryov had major chest fractures. According to Boris Vozrozhdenny, the force required to cause such damage would have been extremely high, comparable to that of a car crash. Notably, the bodies had no external wounds associated with the bone fractures, as if they had been subjected to a high level of pressure.
All four bodies found at the bottom of the creek in a running stream of water had soft tissue damage to their head and face. For example, Dubinina was missing her tongue, eyes, part of the lips, as well as facial tissue and a fragment of skullbone, while Zolotaryov had his eyeballs missing, and Aleksander Kolevatov his eyebrows. V. A. Vozrozhdenny, the forensic expert performing the post-mortem examination, judged that these injuries happened post-mortem due to the location of the bodies in a stream.
There was initial speculation that the indigenous Mansi people, reindeer herders local to the area, had attacked and murdered the group for encroaching upon their lands. Several Mansi were interrogated, but the investigation indicated that the nature of the deaths did not support this hypothesis: only the hikers' footprints were visible, and they showed no sign of hand-to-hand struggle.
Although the temperature was very low, around −25 to −30 °C (−13 to −22 °F) with a storm blowing, the dead were only partially dressed. Some had only one shoe, while others wore only socks. Some were found wrapped in snips of ripped clothes that seemed to have been cut from those who were already dead.
Journalists reporting on the available parts of the inquest files claim that it states:
- Six of the group members died of hypothermia and three of fatal injuries.
- There were no indications of other people nearby on Kholat Syakhl apart from the nine travelers.
- The tent had been ripped open from within.
- The victims had died six to eight hours after their last meal.
- Traces from the camp showed that all group members left the campsite of their own accord, on foot.
- Some levels of radiation were found on one victim's clothing.
- To dispel the theory of an attack by the indigenous Mansi people, Vozrozhdenny stated that the fatal injuries of the three bodies could not have been caused by human beings, "because the force of the blows had been too strong and no soft tissue had been damaged".
- Released documents contained no information about the condition of the skiers' internal organs.
- There were no survivors.
At the time, the official conclusion was that the group members had died because of a compelling natural force. The inquest officially ceased in May 1959 as a result of the absence of a guilty party. The files were sent to a secret archive.
In 1997, it was revealed that the negatives from Krivonischenko's camera were kept in the private archive of one of the investigators, Lev Ivanov. The film material was donated by Ivanov's daughter to the Dyatlov Foundation. The diaries of the hiking party fell into Russia's public domain in 2009.
On 12 April 2018, Zolotarev's remains were exhumed on the initiative of journalists of the Russian tabloid newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. Contradictory results were obtained: one of the experts said that the character of the injuries resembled a person knocked down by a car, and the DNA analysis did not reveal any similarity to the DNA of living relatives. In addition, it turned out that Zolotarev's name was not on the list of those buried at the Ivanovskoye Cemetery. Nevertheless, the reconstruction of the face from the exhumed skull matched postwar photographs of Zolotarev, although journalists expressed suspicions that another person was hiding under Zolotarev's name after World War II.
In February 2019, Russian authorities reopened the investigation into the incident, although only three possible explanations were being considered: an avalanche, a slab avalanche, or a hurricane. The possibility of a crime had been discounted.
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