The Dyatlov Pass Incident – Part 1

August 1, 2013 2:53 pm

Fear is an extremely compelling emotion. It can have an extraordinary effect on a person’s behaviour depending on how intense the feeling is and for what period of time it is experienced. For nine Russian skiers in 1959, it was ultimately fear that allowed an incident to unfold in which all nine lost their lives.

The Dyatlov Pass incident is one of the world’s most notorious unsolved mysteries and even now continues to baffle those who attempt to uncover the truth about what really happened on the night of February 2nd 1959. The incident took place in Russia’s Ural Mountains on the eastern shoulder of a mountain named Kholat Syakhl (A name from the indigenous Mansi people meaning “Dead Mountain” and not “Mountain of the dead” as sometimes asserted. The Soviet investigators charged with getting to the bottom of what happened failed to do so and could come up only with death by “a compelling natural force”. What the search party found upon discovering the group baffled everyone.

What they found appeared to suggest that at sometime around ten o’clock the group cut open their tents from the inside and fled barely dressed with some even being barefoot into the freezing conditions of the mountainside. During their time outside some of the group sustained strange injuries and traces of radiation were found on some of their clothes. It is estimated that within six to eight hours of them originally fleeing their tents all nine members of the ski group were dead. So why did these people die? What caused them to flee into conditions that they knew they wouldn’t last long in? Well, there are several theories regarding what could have caused events to unfold as they did but before we take a look at them we should take a moment to find out a bit more about the ski group.

Igor Dyatlov

Igor Dyatlov

The group originally consisted of ten experienced skiers, mostly students or graduates from the Ural Polytechnic Institute located in Ekaterinburg, Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russia, now renamed the Yeltsin Ural State Technical University. The group’s leader was twenty-three year old Igor Dyatlov, who possibly intended the ski trip/hike to be training for another trip to sub-polar or possibly arctic regions. With him he brought fellow student of the Radio Faculty Zinaida Kolmogorova, Economics students Lyudmila Dubinina who was twenty-one, Yuri Yudin who was twenty-two, Yuri Doroshenko who was twenty-one and twenty-five year old Alexander Kolevatov who was a student of the Geo-Technical Faculty.

The group also contained three engineers in the shape of Georgyi Krivonischenko, Rustem Slobodin, and Nicolas Thibeaux-Brignollel who were twenty-four, twenty-three and twenty-four years old. The last member of the group was thirty seven year old Alexander Zolotarev who was a ski-instructor and tour guide. Zolotarev came along in order to gain performance points on his degree and achieve the status of master or expert instructor, a practice that is still used in Russia. The groups main target was Gora Ortorten, a mountain that was around 10km from where the incident occurred. The route the group planned to take was, at the time in the season, estimated as category three, the most difficult. However, all of the members of the group were experienced skiers and had logged many hours of ski tours and mountain expeditions in the past.

The group set off on their excursion on the 25th January 1959, First travelling by train to Ivdel, a central city in the northern province of Sverdlovsk Oblast, where they stayed for the night. The next day the skiers hitch a lift with a truck to Vizhay, the last inhabited settlement so far north and after arriving settle down and stay the night before their trip really begins. On the 27th of January the group begins their trek towards Gora Ortorten from Vizhay. Photographs taken so far on the journey show the group to be in high spirits, laughing and smiling at one another. A day into their expedition Yuri Yudin suddenly becomes ill, and after informing the others of his intention to return to Vizhay goodbyes and good lucks are exchanged and Yudin heads of alone back to base. The group continue on their route to Gora Ortorten following a river and valley towards their destination.

Yuri Yudin Departs

Yuri Yudin Departs

Three days after the departure on Yuri Yudin, the group reaches the edge of the highland zone where they will break away from the river. They spend most of the day preparing for the climb ahead. According to the “March Plan”, the skiers intended to leave a stock of supplies in a corn chandelier’s shop, however, another account suggested that they constructed a shelter in a nearby wood for the same reason. It is now believed this is indeed what they did. The next morning the group set off for what would be their last campsite. The distance they eventually travelled wasn’t far, around 2.5 miles although a steep incline and the hazardous, snowy conditions would have made this part of the journey very slow going. They continued on until around about 4:00pm when they stopped and decided to set up camp.

The group based themselves around about 10 miles from Gora Ortorten on an exposed slope on a mountain named Kholat Syakhl, a name given to it by the native Mansi people of the area, its translates as “Dead Mountain” and not “Mountain of the Dead” as is often reported. Evidence from photographs taken after they had set up camp suggests that the mood in the group remained positive, they had finally cleared the trees and skiing should have been a lot easier from this point onwards and towards the mountain. At this point it is theorized that the camp ate a meal and began to settle in for the night, apparently evidenced by the fact that nearly all of the team were found under-dressed for such conditions. The temperature outside the tent could have been anything from -18°C to as low as -30°C.

It is estimated that anywhere between 9:30pm and 11:30pm, the group, in various states of undress, cut or rip open their tents from the inside and begin to flee downhill towards the edge of a nearby forest. Footprints found at the scene displayed how the group scattered at first but then eventually came back together some way down the slope. They also show that the skiers were panicked and in a hurry. Somewhere between 10:30pm and 12:30am it appears as if the group had gathered under the shelter of a larger than average pine tree on the edge of the forest nearly a mile away from their tents. The group quickly begins building a fire and remain where they are for possibly two hours or more apparently too afraid to return to the shelter of their camp. The fire helps but group leader Igor Dyatlov knows it will not be enough to keep them alive.

The giant pine tree the group sheltered under was lower than the campsite and had branches broken up to five meters up it suggesting that at least one of the team tried to climb it and try to view what was happening or where they were. Desperate and disoriented by this time three members of the group try to return to the camp. Group leader Dyatlov, Zinaida Kolmogorova and Rustem Slobodin attempt this mammoth task. Already in the grip of hypothermia when they set out, their deaths are somewhat inevitable and they collapse at various intervals. Dyatlov made it 300m from the pine tree with Slobodin reaching 480m and Kolmogorova getting closest to the tents at a distance of 630m from the pine tree. All died of hypothermia.

At 1:00am when their leader fails to return the remaining members wait a while, possibly for some sign of hope. Two further members Georgyi Krivonishenko and Yuri Doroshenko also die of hypothermia while waiting. However, it has been suggested that they may have died before Dyatlov and the others left and that their deaths may have acted as the catalyst for the decision to attempt a return. At this point the other members of the group must have been desperately afraid. The remaining members of the group remove the clothes of their dead friends and use them in an attempt to keep warm, in particular, Dubinina wraps her feet in the trousers no longer needed by Krivonishenko. Finally the decision is made to move along further into the woods and take further shelter from the elements.

The survivors make it a further 100 meters or so into the woods before falling or descending into a ravine. It is likely that the at first bizarre injuries the team sustained occur at this point. The huddle together but Nicolas has a severely crushed skull and it is clear he is dead. As they await Dubinina dies of a combination of chest injuries and hypothermia. Zolotarev is given (or takes) her coat and hat to try to keep himself warm. It is estimated that between 1:45am and 2:45am the last two remaining survivors of the original nine die of a combination of their injuries and hypothermia.

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