Dyatlov Pass incident

Facts about Dyatlov Pass incident

We found 39 facts about Dyatlov Pass incident

Mysterious tragedy in the Ural mountains

The case of a group of students at the Ural Polytechnical Institute in Sverdlovsk continues to arouse great interest and raise many questions. A group of young people took a trip to the Ural mountains in late January and early February 1959, where they met their deaths under circumstances that remain unexplained to this day. The statistics of deaths of young tourists in the USSR in 1958/1959 are horrifying, so why is it the story of the Dyatlov group that generates such excitement? What happened in the pass named after the group's guide, Igor Dyatlov? Is there a chance that we will ever know the truth about the mysterious deaths of nine people?

Dyatlov Pass incident
The idea for the mountain expedition was born out of a desire to participate in a national mountain tourism program aimed at students.

The late 1940s and 1950s are primarily associated with the arms race between the USSR and the United States. Soviet officials were keen to ensure that young, promising citizens of the Soviet Union spent their free time reinforcing patriotic attitudes aimed at the USRR world domination rather than expanding their horizons.

The program was based on the intensive promotion of mountain tours.

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The initiator of the 1959 expedition was Igor Dyatlov.

Dyatlov was a final-year student at the Radio Technical Department of the Ural Polytechnical Institute in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg). The ambitious young man knew that he was facing his last chance to win an honorable decoration. At the same time, he had considerable experience in mountain climbing and was most likely planning an expedition to the Arctic, so he treated each previous trek as training. 

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Dyatlov planned to climb the Otorten and Ojka-Czakur peaks in the Northern Urals.

Otorten was a gentle peak of Mount Kholat Syakhl but had never been climbed in winter conditions. The difficulty was not so much to climb the gentle peak (between 1182 and 1234 meters above sea level), but to cross the Ural taiga in harsh winter conditions. The temperature at night often dropped below 30 degrees Celsius, and blizzards, snowdrifts, and strong winds were a constant feature of the landscape. In addition, the Ural Mountains at the time were in an area of ongoing military operations, making maps of the terrain secretive (the last available map was dated 1941). The group could only rely on their intuition and a map identifying checkpoints to the nearest 10 kilometers or so. 

The group originally consisted of nine people.

They were Igor Dyatlov (23 years old), Yuri Yudin (21 years old), Zinaida Kolmogorova (22 years old), Nikolai Thibeaux-Brignolle (24 years old), Lyudmila Dubinina (21 years old), Yuri Doroshenko (21 years old), Aleksandr Kolevatov (25 years old), Georgy Yuri Krivonishchenko (24 years old) and Rustem Slobodin (23 years old). 

All were students or graduates of the Ural Polytechnical Institute in Sverdlovsk. They had lots of mountain climbing experience, and a large number of contemporary commentators call them pioneers of high-altitude climbing.

The Ural Polytechnical Institute educated future engineers and builders, destined to contribute to the world domination of the USSR and the defeat of the United States in the arms race. 

Of the nine participants, three graduates worked on the secret Soviet atom research program.

Nikolai Thibeaux-Brignolle and Georgy Yuri Krivonishchenko were employed at the secret Mayak atomic plant, some 120 kilometers south of Sverdlovsk.

Mayak atomic combine is associated with the very first in human history radioactive contamination accidents, called the Kyshtym disaster.

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One of the expedition's participants, Aleksandr Kolevatov, worked at Institute 3394 in Moscow.

Employees at Institute 3394 in Moscow focused on creating a nuclear shield, designing nuclear weapons, developing a space shuttle design (Sputnik), and working on nuclear fuel optimization. The Institute was a top-secret compound, unofficially called the brains behind the Cold War.

Kolevatov studied on a one-to-one basis at the Faculty of Physics and Technology of the Ural Polytechnical Institute.

Kolevatov is linked to the mysterious disappearance of his expedition's logbook.

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Moments before setting off on an expedition, the group of tourists expanded by one participant.

Just before setting out on the expedition to the Ural Mountains, Semyon Alekseevich Zolotaryov joined the nine-member group of young people. The thirty-seven-year-old introduced himself to the others as Alexander "Sasha" Zolotaryov, a mountain guide and instructor of the Kourov tourist base.

The young tourists, who were obliged to document their expedition with diaries (this was a requirement of the Sverdlovsk City Committee of Physical Culture and Sport), titled Zolotariev "guide." 

To this day, the figure of Zolotariev is the most mysterious.

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The expedition was scheduled to begin on January 23, 1959.

In addition to the desire to conquer one of the most difficult mountain routes, the expedition also had as its intention to honor the participants of the 21st Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The congress was held in Moscow on January 27-February 5.

The expedition's route was approximately 300 kilometers and was to last for 18 days. On February 12, the hikers planned to send a telegram from the village of Vizhai informing them of the conquest, but this never happened.

For the first few days, the group traveled by means of transportation.

They moved by train and one or two trucks. Initially they reached Ivdel through Serov by rail, and on January 26 they got to Vizhai by truck. From there, the same or another truck transported them to 41st precint, from where they continued their further journey on skis. On January 28-30, their route led along the Lozva and Auspii rivers, and on January 31 they reached the border of the forest. There they built a shelter where they placed food supplies to serve them on their return journey.

On February 1, 1959, they reached the slope of Mount Kholat Syakhl.

Mount Kholat Syakhl means "Dead Mountain" in the language of the local Mansia people. Despite its ominous overtones, the name refers to the lack of vegetation and wildlife in this region of the Urals.

The group had originally planned to bypass Mount Kholat Syakhl.

Most likely, it was Igor Dyatlov who decided to change the route. To wait out the deteriorating weather, on February 1 the group pitched a tent at the side of the mountain. Notes written in their diaries indicate that everyone was in very good spirits. This is corroborated by various photos of smiling people.

For health reasons, Yuri Yudin separated from the group on January 28.

Most likely, he got a sciatica attack and decided to withdraw from the expedition. It is safe to say that he cheated destiny, as he is the only surviving member of the Dyatlov group. He died in 2013 at the age of 76, and at his express request was buried among the participants of the tragic expedition.

The participants of the expedition had photographic equipment and kept diaries.

The entire course of the Dyatlov group's expedition, until their mysterious death, was documented by the young tourists. Some did it meticulously, while others paid less attention to this activity. Most likely, they owned five or six cameras. There is a very rich body of evidence in the form of photographs and diary entries. Countless enthusiasts of unexplained stories continuously rely upon gathered materials. Many of them are still trying to unravel the mystery of the Dyatlov Pass today.

The same cannot be said about prosecutors engaged in the investigation, except for Lev Ivanov, who was independent from his superiors, and for that was removed from the investigation. In 1992, he apologized to the families of the deceased claiming, that his superiors knew exactly what happened at the Dyatlov Pass, but were never interested in airing the truth.

The culmination of the expedition was to send a telegram on February 12, as the group did not have a portable radio station.

In those days, radio stations were large, heavy, and bulky. The group could not afford such a heavy ballast. Their own backpacks, quilts, and tent weighed between 20 and 40 kilograms, and the route to the summit led through one-and-a-half-meter-high snowdrifts.

It seems puzzling in this situation that the leader of the expedition, Igor Dyatlov, not only came from a family of inventors but was himself an eager constructor from an early age.

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In the absence of any contact with the tourists, the families of the expedition members waited patiently for the promised telegram.

As time passed, the relatives, concerned about the lack of information, began to contact all sorts of institutions en masse, including the Ural Polytechnical Institute. Initially, the pleading of families to organize a rescue expedition was addressed reluctantly. Some of the families were informed that Dyatlov had sent a telegram and the group was safe and sound. However, it soon became clear that the telegram had been sent by members of different expeditions.

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The Dyatlov Pass tragedy most likely happened on the night of February 1-2, 1959.

There are plenty of hypotheses about what happened to Dyatlov's group. However, none of them has been confirmed 100 percent, and many concepts contain mutually exclusive facts and conclusions.

An indisputable fact is that numerous items were found and the general area where the tragedy took place was outlined.

On February 26, 1959, the tourists' tent was found with the participants' jackets and footwear inside. This is incomprehensible because, according to various sources, the temperature that night could have been well below -20 degrees Celsius. In addition, the tent had many cuts made with sharp objects (most likely a knife) about 3 centimeters in diameter, as well as two larger cuts. Each of the cuts was made on the inner surface of the tent.

During the search, a map was drawn up, on which all the critical points were located.

We learn from it that at a distance of about 1.5 kilometers from the tent down the slope there was a tall Siberian pine, under which a bonfire had been lit.

This was also the place where the first two corpses-Yuri Doroshenko and Georgi Yuri Krivonishchenko-were found.

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Some analyses assume that after leaving the tent, the hikers descended or ran down the slope and then lit a campfire.

The prosecutors, investigative journalists, and amateur researchers disagree on the speed at which the tourists moved after leaving the tent. It has also not been determined precisely how many people the footprints between the tent and the Siberian pine belonged to, and whether the footprints led only in one or both directions. Some suggest that two of the people separated from the group and returned to it after some time.

What is known, however, is that of all the participants of the expedition, only Rustem Slobodin was wearing shoes after leaving the tent. The others were barefoot, some had socks on their feet, and some had only one shoe on.

Yuri Doroshenko and Georgy Yuri Krivonishchenko were found in just their underwear.

The cause of death for both was hypothermia. According to the official autopsy report, both had frostbitten limbs, swollen meninges, as well as numerous abrasions, bruises, and cuts. Foamy liquid was found in the lungs of both victims. Krivonishchenko's autopsy also revealed second and third-degree burns, charred skin, and numerous burn marks on his hands and feet.

Traces of soft tissue were secured on the bark of the Siberian pine tree under which they were found, which may suggest that one or both of them had tried to climb the tree.

Rustem Slobodin's autopsy revealed a fracture of the frontal bone of the skull.

In all likelihood, the injury caused Slobodin to lose consciousness, which ended in death from hypothermia. Both the autopsy doctors and contemporary commentators say that the skull injury alone could not have been a threat to the boy's life.

Examinations of the other two - Igor Dyatlov and Zinaida Kolmogorova - showed frostbite on the limbs, and abrasions of the epidermis, but also frothy fluid in the lungs. Hypothermia was considered the cause of death.

Autopsies of the four hikers found in the ravine showed the most severe injuries.

In addition to several surprising injuries that occurred while the victims were alive, numerous changes may have already occurred after death because three months had passed between the time of the tragedy and their discovery, i.e. putrefactive processes had begun to take place.

Among the injuries sustained while the victims were alive, the autopsies showed, among other things:

- in the case of Lyudmila Dubinina, a punctured heart muscle, and numerous rib fractures, as well as hematomas and hemorrhage

- in the case of Aleksandr Kolevatov, extensive hematomas and a wound behind the right ear

- in the case of Nikolai Thibeaux-Brignolle, extensive fracture of the skull bone and temporal bone, including a fragment of bone pushed inside the skull, as well as injury to the right cerebral hemisphere and bruises on the right arm

- in the case of Semyon Zolotaryov, a rib fracture on the right side, blood in the pleura, and meningeal ischemia

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Many theories point to the unfounded assumption of the post-mortem origins of some injuries.

The evidence gathered in the case does not definitively support any of the assumptions. 

It was unanimously agreed that representatives of the Soviet Union never cared about providing a fair explanation of the causes of the tragedy. They did not care about the truth or the psychological well-being of the families and friends of the dead. What may have been important was to properly camouflage potentially sensitive information to protect the Communist Party and its interests. It should be noted that the revelation of the connection between two tourists and the Mayak combine saw light more than thirty years after the Kyshtym accident. 

The lack of involvement of Soviet forces in explaining the tragedy seems evident.

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The poses in which each corpse was found are also analyzed.

The corpses found by the campfire lay side by side on their backs, had their arms crossed behind their heads, and were covered with a sheet-type material. Three more bodies, found on the path between the Siberian pine tree and the tent, were bent in a way that is not consistent with the behavior of a man limping from the cold. The last four victims looked as if they had been deposited in one place in different, random poses.

One hypothesis was that there had been an explosion in the area where the expedition participants were found.

The argument in support of this thesis was the condition of Nikolai Thibeaux-Brignolle's skull and signs of pulmonary edema in some of the tourists. In addition, Nikolai was not found to have numerous hematomas and bruises, which are typical of external injuries. Doctors indicated that the injuries could not have been caused by being hit by a heavy object or by an avalanche coming down. They, however, could have been caused by an airborne detonation wave.

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Another theory is the spy theory.

It assumes that the KGB or GRU agents (given the military units stationed in the area) were involved in the death of the Dyatlov group. The group of tourists included people who had access to secret information about the Soviet atom, especially Alexander Kolevatov. This version assumes that the agents confronted tourists at night and led them out of the tent. The theory does not specify what happened between the groups; one interpretation is that the confrontation got out of hand. Other researchers point out that the tourists frightened out of the tent, would have had considerable difficulty getting to the Siberian pine in the middle of the night, pointing out that the group's footprints were not scattered, as if the group had been led. This version of the theory assumes that the agents' goal from the beginning was to deprive the tourists of their lives.

The theory with agents clarifies numerous threads in the Dyatlov Pass tragedy.

Researchers believe that the campfire under the tree was lit by agents, who then led the Dyatlov group down the slope. This would explain the large, unused amount of brushwood lying near the campfire. One argument is that the students, experienced in mountain expeditions, left the tent without proper clothing. In addition, the injuries on Kolevatov's body (a wound behind the ear) corresponded to one of the killing methods used by intelligence services.

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The theory also explains why investigators failed to establish the truth.

Further strands of this theory assumed that search groups had been infiltrated. Their members skillfully diverted attention from certain traces, and obliterated some of them.

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In the case of the Dyatlov Pass tragedy, the involvement of the Mansi is also a popular hypothesis.

The Mansi inhabit the Siberian territories between the Urals and the Ob River. It is an autonomous group from the Russians, which also entails a limited trust of one in the other. The Mansi were followers of shamanism, cultivating the spirits of ancestors and guardians.

It is hypothesized that the inherently peaceful people reacted bloodily due to the tragedy they experienced shortly before the tourists arrived.

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Many supporters, mainly among Russians, have a theory that assumes the death of tourists as a result of an unfortunate accident.

The area in the Otorten Peak region was rich in mineral deposits, mined with dynamite. The extraction of these minerals was carried out by groups affiliated with the town of Ivdel, which was the transfer hub for all USSR prisoners sent to the Gulag. These people very often flew in helicopters over the pass. According to this theory, the Dyatlov group did not pitch their tent at the side of the mountain, but among the trees. Supporters of the theory recognize that such seasoned mountain hikers would not have pitched a tent in the open, as this defied logic and all rules.

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A theory generating a lot of excitement is related to mysterious light phenomena occurring in the Urals region.

One of the most mysterious yet partially documented phenomena occurring in the Northern Urals is lights appearing in the sky. Some analysts point to military bases in the area where ballistic missiles were tested, but some attribute them to atmospheric phenomena, more specifically, ball lightning.

The light phenomena in 1959 were documented and analyzed by prosecutor Lev Ivanov.

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In 2008, the so-called "slab avalanche" hypothesis was put forward.

With the help of a book titled “Mysteries of the Death of the Dyatlov Group," written by Yevgeny Buyanov and Boris Slobtsov, another theory has come to light, initially talking about the descent of a snow avalanche. However, this theory was dismissed because the slope of the mountain, under which the tourists pitched their tent, was very mild and such a phenomenon could not have occurred. Thus, the authors were tempted to conclude that the so-called "small slab avalanche" was behind the mysterious death of the expedition participants. This is a type of snow avalanche, formed when a layer of fresh snow, not bound to the ground, landslides.

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In 2019, the investigation resumed and focused on trying to prove the avalanche theory.

The slab avalanche theory was accepted by the Russian prosecutor's office as the official cause of the tragedy. The investigation was also carried out by European experts, who, after performing a computer simulation, confirmed the Russians' findings.

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Many people interested in the fate of the Dyatlov group present several arguments that exclude the "official theory of the tragedy."

The occurrence of avalanches or slab avalanches in the area was not confirmed by the Mansi. Moreover, none of the 1959 findings indicated that the corpses found within the tent were covered with snow. Assuming that several deaths occurred in the tent, the remaining, barely clothed participants would have had to dig their comrades out from under the snow cover in the middle of the night, with temperatures reaching -20 degrees Celsius, and then carry them within a kilometer and a half under the Siberian pine.

Also relevant to the avalanche theory is the fact that Igor Dyatlov and his group, except for Semyon Zolotaryov, were very experienced mountain hikers, and it is highly likely that they knew where to pitch the tent so as not to risk an avalanche coming down.

It is said of Igor Dyatlov that he took an overly ambitious approach to the Otorten expedition.

Dyatlov was an experienced tourist belonging to the Ural Polytechnical Tourism Section. He had repeatedly participated in summer and winter mountain expeditions, and two years before the tragedy in the Pass, he had ventured into the Ural Mountains. The issue of him winning the "Master of Sports in Tourism" decoration was his greatest ambition and a sign of prestige. Researchers have concluded that of all the participants in the expedition, Igor was the one who took it deadly seriously, which meant he could display bravado and impose an inhuman walking pace. It could also mean that he consciously gave up taking the radio station, which would have been an additional burden.

Dyatlov's morbid ambition does not convince analysts of the February 1959 event.

Opinions of Dyatlov's acquaintances and friends vary dramatically - some point out that he was a very warm and welcoming person, while others point out that as soon as he became an expedition leader, he turned into an apodictic and repulsive individual. He also triggered a winner’s instinct. Whatever the case may be, researchers point out that Dyatlov's behavior or character in no way affects the analysis of the clues found in the Pass, and adds nothing to the explanation of the injuries discovered on some of the corpses.

The last entry in Dyatlov's diary is dated January 31, 1959.

He wrote, "it is hard to believe how cozy it can be on a mountain ridge, with the penetrating howl of the wind, hundreds of kilometers from populated places."

Before setting out, Dyatlov promised his parents that the trip would be his last. He was right.

Igor's parents were against the expedition. Their son was a final-year student and they wanted him to concentrate on writing his thesis. However, Igor aspired to receive a medal, besides, he loved mountain expeditions.

At the entrance to the pass, a monument was erected to honor the dead tourists.

The four-meter sculpture is located about 50 meters from the place where the tent of the Dyatlov group was found. It depicts four figures in different poses, which symbolize different versions of the death of the young people.

After the case file was declassified, the evidence, including photos, was passed to the public domain.

Among the photos documenting the expedition of the Dyatlov group, there is one that invariably electrifies public opinion. It depicts an indistinct, formidable figure standing in the distance. The photo has provoked conspiracy theories about the existence of a Yeti monster in the Ural taiga. Proponents of the theory of a confrontation between tourists and intelligence agents point out that the figure could have been one of the agents, as a holster can allegedly be seen at his belt.

Researchers indicate that the photo most likely depicts Nikolai Thibeaux-Brignolle, who is said to have been a very energetic man who liked to fool around.

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