- Igor Dyatlov (Игорь Дятлов), 23
- Zinaida Kolmogorova (Зинаида Колмогорова), 22
- Lyudmila Dubinina (Людмила Дубинина), 21
- Alexander Kolevatov (Александр Колеватов), 25
- Rustem Slobodin (Рустем Слободин), 23
- Georgyi Krivonischenko (Георгий Кривонищенко), 24
- Yuri Doroshenko (Юрий Дорошенко), 21
- Nicolas Thibeaux-Brignollel (Николай Тибо-Бриньоль), 24
- Alexander Zolotarev (Александр Золотарев), 37
- Yuri Yudin (Юрий Юдин)
Those are the names of the members of the 1958-1959 Ural Polytechnical Institute Ski Team. On January 25, 1959, this group of ten Ski-Hikers would embark on a journey whose tragic end would forever remain a mystery. Only one of them, Yuri Yudin, would survive the trip due to an earlier illness.
If you haven’t heard of the Dyatlov Pass Incident before, the story is quite compelling. While modern forensics has been able to piece together some of the strangeness surrounding the incident, the details behind what happened on that cold, winter night in February 1959 still remain a mystery. The unanswered question is “Why would nine experienced cross-country ski-hikers quickly rip through their tent to run out into extremely frigid winter temperatures of −18°C (−1°F) at the risk of their own deaths?”
Much of the following information pertaining to the sequence of events has been reconstructed from the diaries and photographs taken by the ski-hikers. (My information has been chronicled from articles that have referenced these documents– see Sources at the end of the article.)
January 25, 1959, The group arrived by train at Ivdel (Ивдель), a city in the northern province of Sverdlovsk, Oblast. In the morning, they would travel by truck to Vizhay (Вижай), the last populated area this far to the north, where they would embark on the ski-hiking portion of the trip. Their carefully planned trip was to last no more than sixteen days. As soon as they returned to Vizhay (by February 12th), Igor Dyatlov was to telegraph the Ural Polytechnical Institute of their safe return.
The group begins the ski-hiking portion of the trip towards “Gora Otorten”. They make it through the first day without any issues. On the morning of January 28, 1959, team member Yuri Yudin falls ill and decides to head back to Vizhay (Вижай). He arrives safely while the rest of the group continues their journey. Two days later, the group of nine ski-hikers arrives at the end of the highland zone, a relatively low altitude area with thick shrubs. This is where they had planned on breaking away from the river. They spend the rest of the day preparing for the steep inclines to come the following day. Little did the group know, the following days would be the last they would ever see.
The distance to their next and final campsite would be approximately 2.5 miles away, through steep, forested terrain that would be thick with snow. At approximately 4pm, the group would set up their final camp on the exposed slope of Kholat-Syakhl, which translates to “Mountain of the Dead”. Their last meal would be at approximately 6pm-7pm. Following dinner, the group would turn in for the night.
At some point, probably around midnight, all hell would break loose and the entire group of ski-hikers, many of them scantily clad, would tear through their tent and run pell-mell down the snowy slopes to their eventual deaths.
It would be twenty (20) days before anyone went looking for the members of the ski-group. Though they had missed their scheduled check-in date of February 12, it was common for such trips to result in delays, but by February 20, relatives of the ski-hikers insisted something was wrong.
Rescuers would work through the next five days with no luck. On February 25, the pilot of an airplane which was part of the search party spots the first sign of the group. The following day, February 26, the abandoned camp site is discovered. Snowy footsteps lead down the mountainous slopes toward a wooded area. They stretch for about 500 meters (~1,700 feet) before being buried in snow. Searchers continued to follow the direction of the footsteps and discover the remains of a fire and the bodies of Krivonischenko and Doroshenko, which are buried under snow beneath a large pine tree. They have no shoes on and are only wearing undergarments. The tree showed traces of human tissue and was missing branches up to a height of about 5 meters (16 feet) suggesting to rescuers that the group had climbed the tree and broke off branches to obtain firewood. Without gloves, their hands would have been rough and raw from these efforts.
Team leader Igor Dyatlov’s body is discovered 300 meters (~1,000 feet) from the fire. His body was found face up with his head pointed towards the tent. One hand was shielding his head and the other held a small birch tree branch.
180 meters (~600 feet) from Dyatlov’s body, lay the remains of Rustem Slobodin. Although Slobodin’s skull had a 17 centimeter (~6.5 inch) fracture, his cause of death was hypothermia. He died face down in the snow, his body pointing towards the tent. Zinaida Kolmogorova’s body was discovered in the snow 150 meters (~500 feet) nearer to the tent. The snow was speckled with blood from an unknown source.
The first group of hikers, which were not buried very deeply in the snow, were found to have an unusually abnormal orange hue to their skin.
The second group of ski-hikers aren’t discovered until early May (May 4, 1959). The bodies of Lyudmila Dubinina, Alexander Zolotarev, Alexander Kolevatov and Nicolas Thibeaux-Brignollel were discovered, buried under 4 meters (13 feet) of snow, in a ravine located 23 meters (75 feet) from the large pine tree where it appears the whole group had tried to start a fire. The skull of Nicolas Thibeaux-Brignollel had been severely crushed. Dubinina had sustained a fracture of her rib cage which likely sped up her death by puncturing her heart. She would have only survived for 15-20 minutes after sustaining this injury. Her body was found to be missing a tongue and soft tissues of the mouth. She was also wearing Krivonischenko’s wool pants as shoes. Alexander Zolotarev also had broken ribs and was found wearing Dubinina’s faux-fur coat and hat. The clothing on the bodies of Dubinina and Zolotarev showed trace amounts of radiation.
Why would nine experienced ski-hikers leave their tent, scantily clad, in sub-freezing temperatures? How did they sustain their injuries? WHAT HAPPENED? These and many more questions keep the events at Dyatlov Pass a mystery, but forensic science has been able to answer some of those strange questions.
Why did the skin on the first five bodies look like a bad spray-on tan?
The first five bodies were found almost three weeks after the incident occurred. They were laying, relatively unburied in the snow and had been exposed to the sun for that long. The sun reflecting off the snow would have also helped account for the unnatural tan. The other bodies, which were buried under 4 meters (17 feet) of snow showed no signs of tanning.
What happened to Dubinina’s tongue? Why was it missing?
Dubinina was found in the second group in the ravine. Her body had been exposed to the elements for approximately three months and was probably discovered by scavenging animals. It is possible that the soft tissues in her mouth were devoured by one of these animals. The other possibility is her soft tissues had degraded though the activity of micro flora and fauna.
What caused the crushing damage to the ski-hikers who were found in the ravine?
The most obvious answer to this question would be the ravine itself. With weather conditions of low visibility and freezing temperatures, which had already begun to freeze the ski-hikers, it’s not surprising that they stumbled into a ravine. The fall would have been far enough to result in the fractured ribs and crushed skull.
“The slope of a ravine had a range of heights from 3 up to 5 m (10m or 17 ft) in the general area where the skiers were found. It had an incline or angle of approximately 30 to 40 degrees. The opposite slope of the ravine was flat. The width of the ravine was approximately 40 metres or 130 ft. It is quite possible that the injuries recorded could have been sustained by a “sudden” fall – especially given the fact that these people would have been tired and have had limited visibility.”
What caused the fracture in Slobodin’s skull?
It’s been suggested that the fractured skull of Slobodin may have been caused from a fall from the pine tree which had been stripped of the lower branches 5 meters (16 feet) above ground level. A branch falling from the tree may have also knocked him in the head.
How did the trace radiation get on the clothing of Dubinina and Zolotarev?
Forensics has determined that the radiation originated from Dubinina’s clothing and was transferred to Zolotarev when he wore her coat and hat. So how did the trace radiation get on Dubinina’s clothing? The most logical postulation out there is that the radiation was from the mantles in a camping lantern, which Dubinina probably changed when they set up camp that night. The mantles, little fabric bags that act as a wick, contain thorium which emits alpha particle radiation. The mantles are fragile and it wouldn’t be difficult for them to crush into dust, which would then cling to an object such as a coat. They were invented in 1891, and typically used in many countries until they were phased out in 1990’s.
Why would someone run out into the cold without being properly clothed?
The most logical explanation for the lack of clothing on several members of the ski-team can be explained by exposure to the elements (hypothermia) and Paradoxical Undressing. When hypothermia sets in, the body draws heat into its core through vasoconstriction of your peripheral circulation– muscles in your limbs tighten, constricting blood vessels which causes less blood flow to your arms and legs and more in your torso. When the muscles constricting blood flow to the extremities tire, they begin to fatigue and relax, causing a warm rush of blood to flood from the warmer torso to the cooler arms and legs. This gives the impression of heat as the extremities begin to feel overly warm and the victim begins to remove clothing, causing their core temperature to fall even faster. It is not uncommon for hypothermia victims to resist warm clothing and blankets from rescuers who are trying to warm their bodies. Unfortunately, there have been no survivors of paradoxical undressing who saved themselves. In all cases, someone else had to intervene. One example would be a mountain climber from the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster who, suffering from hypoxia, removed his oxygen tank, stripped to his undergarments and nearly walked off the side of the mountain.
What happened that night?
As clear as forensics can tell, all the members of the ski team left the tent and ran down the snowy mountainous slopes to the big pine tree, where they regrouped. Knowing they needed to warm themselves, they started a fire under the large pine tree, which they stripped for firewood. Speculation about the cause of injuries and what happened after regrouping under the tree varies from account to account from this point on, though the sequence of deaths remains the same. In my version, when it becomes clear that the group needs supplies from the tent to survive, Slobodin climbs the tall cedar tree to get bearings on the location of the tent. While climbing the tree, he incurs a head injury from a branch, possibly from a fall from the tree. Three of the ski-hikers (Igor Dyatlov, Rustem Slobodin and Zinaida Kolmogorova) attempt to return to the tent to retrieve the supplies. They all eventually die from hypothermia. Back at the tree, two members of the group die from exposure and their clothes are divided between the remaining four ski-hikers. The remaining group of four decides to attempt to find better cover from the cold and wander deeper into the forest, where they fall into the ravine. Nicolas Thibeaux-Brignollel hits his head on a hard object, possibly a rock, and dies from his head wound. Lyudmila Dubinina breaks several ribs and where she eventually bleeds to death. Alexander Zolotarev expires shortly after Dubinina, taking her clothing in an attempt to warm himself. Alexander Kolevatov, alone, dies from hypothermia.
Why was the tent ripped from the inside-out?
Clearly the group was trying to get out of the tent quickly. Perhaps one of the members of the group, suffering from Hypothermia, became insensible and ran out of the tent causing the others to chase after him. Whatever the answer to this question one thing is certain, they were all in a big hurry to get out of the tent… and THAT is the real mystery– why would nine experienced skiers leave their tent in such a hurry only to find themselves in sub-zero temperatures with little to no clothing?
While there are still some people who cry conspiracy over this tragedy– some even adding strange things to the story like missing documents, unnatural grey hair or mysterious lights– the facts seem to point towards something more natural that caused the deaths of ten experienced cross-country skiers on a cold February night in the Ural Mountains. This “mystery” is on Cracked.com’s list of “6 Famous Unsolved Mysteries (With Really Obvious Solutions)“. I agree that the story of how they died is insanely obvious. What I’d love to know is WHY they died– what would cause them to leave their tent in such a hurry?
(Pending Addition) There’s a new theory out there in a book called “” by XX which gives a plausible reason for the skiers to leave their tent so quickly, and in great duress.(/pending addition)
I guess we’ll never know…
* “Mysterious Deaths of 9 Skiers Still Unresolved”, The St. Petersburg Times, February 19, 2008 (Issue #1349).
By Svetlana Osadchuk