|Native name||Гибель тургруппы Дятлова|
|Date||1–2 February 1959|
|Location||Kholat Syakhl, Northern Urals, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union|
|Cause||Physical trauma and hypothermia|
|Participants||9 Ski hikers from the Ural Polytechnical Institute|
(a tenth skier was present on the expedition, but left before the incident)
|Outcome||Area closed for 3 years|
The Dyatlov Pass incident (Russian: гибель тургруппы Дятлова, lit. 'The Dyatlov Group demise') was an event in which nine Russian hikers died in the northern Ural Mountains between 1 and 2 February 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. During the night, something caused them to cut their way out of their tent and flee the campsite while inadequately dressed for the heavy snowfall and subzero temperatures.
After the group's bodies were discovered, an investigation by Soviet authorities determined that six 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 the skull. Four of the bodies were found lying in running water in a creek, and three of these had soft tissue damage of the head and face – two of the bodies were missing their eyes, one was missing its tongue, and one was missing its 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, avalanche, katabatic winds, infrasound-induced panic, military involvement, or some combination of these.
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 EPFL and ETH Zurich, published in 2021, suggested that a type of avalanche known as a slab avalanche could explain some of the injuries.
A mountain pass in the area has later been 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 1700 metres away, on the eastern slope of Kholat Syakhl. A prominent rock outcrop in the area is now a memorial to the group. It is located about 500 metres east south east 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) was the leader who assembled a group of nine others for the trip, most of whom were fellow students and peers at the university. Each member of the group, which consisted of eight men and two women, was an experienced Grade II-hiker with ski tour experience, and would be receiving Grade III certification upon their return. At the time, this 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 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 8th, 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 undertaken in February was estimated as a Category III, 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 the Sverdlovsk city (today Yekaterinburg) on the same day they received the route book.
|Members of the expedition|
|Name (Romanization)||Russian name||Birthdate||Age||Sex||Supposed cause of death||Ref.|
|Igor Alekseyevich Dyatlov||Игорь Алексеевич Дятлов||13 January 1936||23||Male||Hypothermia|||
|Yuri Nikolayevich Doroshenko||Юрий Николаевич Дорошенко||29 January 1938||21||Male||Hypothermia|||
|Lyudmila Alexandrovna Dubinina||Людмила Александровна Дубинина||12 May 1938||20||Female||Internal bleeding from severe chest trauma|||
|Georgiy (Yuri)[a] Alexeyevich Krivonischenko||Георгий (Юрий) Алексеевич Кривонищенко||7 February 1935||23||Male||Hypothermia|||
|Alexander Sergeyevich Kolevatov||Александр Сергеевич Колеватов||16 November 1934||24||Male||Hypothermia|||
|Zinaida Alekseevna Kolmogorova||Зинаида Алексеевна Колмогорова||12 January 1937||22||Female||Hypothermia|||
|Rustem Vladimirovich Slobodin||Рустем Владимирович Слободин||11 January 1936||23||Male||Hypothermia|||
|Nikolai Vladimirovich Thibeaux-Brignolles||Николай Владимирович Тибо-Бриньоль||5 July 1935||23||Male||Fatal skull injury||[b]|
|Semyon (Alexander)[c] Alekseevich Zolotaryov||Семён (Александр) Алексеевич Золотарёв||2 February 1921||38||Male||Severe chest trauma|
|Yuri Yefimovich Yudin||Юрий Ефимович Юдин||19 July 1937||21||Male||Left expedition on 28 January due to illness; died 27 April 2013 at the age of 75|||
The group arrived by train at Ivdel (Ивдель), a town at the centre of the northern province of Sverdlovsk Oblast in the early morning hours of January 25, 1959. They then took a truck to Vizhai (Вижай), a lorry village that is the last inhabited settlement to the north. While spending the night in Vizhai, the skiers purchased and ate loaves of bread to keep their energy levels up for the following day's hike.
On January 27, they began their trek toward Gora Otorten. On January 28, one member, Yuri Yudin, who suffered from several health ailments (including rheumatism and a congenital heart defect) turned back due to knee and joint pain that made him unable to continue the hike. The remaining nine hikers continued the trek.
Diaries and cameras found around their last campsite made it possible to track the group's route up to the day preceding the incident. On 31 January, the group arrived at the edge of a highland area and began to prepare for climbing. In a wooded valley, they cached surplus food and equipment that would be used for the trip back. The next day, the hikers started to move through the pass. It seems they planned to get over the pass and make camp for the next night on the opposite side, but because of worsening weather conditions—snowstorms and decreasing visibility—they lost their direction and deviated west, toward the top of Kholat Syakhl. When they realised their mistake, the group decided to set up camp there on the slope of the mountain, rather than move 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) downhill to a forested area that would have offered some shelter from the weather. Yudin speculated, "Dyatlov probably did not want to lose the altitude they had gained, or he decided to practice camping on the mountain slope."
Before leaving, Dyatlov had agreed he would send a telegram to their sports club as soon as the group returned to Vizhai. It was expected that this would happen no later than 12 February, but Dyatlov had told Yudin, before he departed from the group, that he expected it to be longer. When the 12th passed and no messages had been received, there was no immediate reaction, as delays of a few days were common with such expeditions. On 20 February, the travellers' relatives demanded a rescue operation and the head of the institute sent the first rescue groups, consisting of volunteer students and teachers. Later, the army and militsiya (police) forces became involved, with planes and helicopters ordered to join the operation.
On 26 February, the searchers found the group's abandoned and badly damaged tent on Kholat Syakhl. The campsite baffled the search party. Mikhail Sharavin, the student who found the tent, said "the tent was half torn down and covered with snow. It was empty, and all the group's belongings and shoes had been left behind." Investigators said the tent had been cut open from inside. Nine sets of footprints, left by people wearing only socks or a single shoe or even barefoot, could be followed, leading down to the edge of a nearby wood, on the opposite side of the pass, 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) to the north-east. After 500 metres (1,600 ft) these tracks were covered with snow. At the forest's edge, under a large Siberian pine, the searchers found the visible remains of a small fire. There were the first two bodies, those of Krivonischenko and Doroshenko, shoeless and dressed only in underwear. The branches on the tree were broken up to five meters high, suggesting that one of the skiers had climbed up to look for something, perhaps the camp. Between the pine and the camp, the searchers found three more corpses: Dyatlov, Kolmogorova, and Slobodin, who died in poses suggesting that they were attempting to return to the tent. They were found at distances of 300, 480, and 630 metres (980, 1,570, and 2,070 ft) from the tree.
Finding the remaining four travelers took more than two months. They were finally found on 4 May under four metres (13 ft) of snow in a ravine 75 metres (246 ft) further into the woods from the pine tree. Three of the four were better dressed than the others, and there were signs that some clothing of those who had died first had been removed for use by the others. Dubinina was wearing Krivonishenko's burned, torn trousers, and her left foot and shin were wrapped in a torn jacket.
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:
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.
Anatoly Gushchin (Анатолий Гущин) summarized his research in the book The Price of State Secrets Is Nine Lives (Цена гостайны – девять жизней, Sverdlovsk, 1990) Some researchers criticised the work for its concentration on the speculative theory of a Soviet secret weapon experiment, but its publication led to public discussion, stimulated by interest in the paranormal. Indeed, many of those who had remained silent for thirty years reported new facts about the accident. One of them was the former police officer, Lev Ivanov (Лев Иванов), who led the official inquest in 1959. In 1990, he published an article that included his admission that the investigation team had no rational explanation for the incident. He also stated that, after his team reported that they had seen flying spheres, he then received direct orders from high-ranking regional officials to dismiss this claim.
In 2000, a regional television company produced the documentary film The Mystery of Dyatlov Pass (Тайна перевала Дятлова). With the help of the film crew, a Yekaterinburg writer, Anna Matveyeva (Анна Матвеева), published a docudrama novella of the same name. A large part of the book includes broad quotations from the official case, diaries of victims, interviews with searchers and other documentaries collected by the film-makers. The narrative line of the book details the everyday life and thoughts of a modern woman (an alter ego of the author herself) who attempts to resolve the case. Despite its fictional narrative, Matveyeva's book remains the largest source of documentary materials ever made available to the public regarding the incident. Also, the pages of the case files and other documentaries (in photocopies and transcripts) are gradually being published on a web forum for enthusiastic researchers.
The Dyatlov Foundation was founded in 1999 at Yekaterinburg, with the help of Ural State Technical University, led by Yuri Kuntsevitch (Юрий Кунцевич). The foundation's stated aim is to continue investigation of the case and to maintain the Dyatlov Museum to preserve the memory of the dead hikers. On 1 July 2016, a memorial plaque was inaugurated in Solikamsk in Ural's Perm Region, dedicated to Yuri Yudin (the sole survivor of the expedition group), who died in 2013.
On 11 July 2020, Andrey Kuryakov, deputy head of the Urals Federal District directorate of the Prosecutor-General's Office, announced an avalanche to be the "official cause of death" for the Dyatlov group in 1959. Later independent computer simulation and analysis by Swiss researchers also suggest avalanche as the cause.
The most appealing aspect of Kuryakov's scenario is that the Dyatlov party’s actions no longer seem irrational. The snow slab, according to Greene, would probably have made loud cracks and rumbles as it fell across the tent, making an avalanche seem imminent. Kuryakov noted that although the skiers made an error in the placement of their tent, everything they did subsequently was textbook: they conducted an emergency evacuation to ground that would be safe from an avalanche, they took shelter in the woods, they started a fire, they dug a snow cave. Had they been less experienced, they might have remained near the tent, dug it out, and survived. But avalanches are by far the biggest risk in the mountains in winter, and the more experience you have, the more you fear them. The skiers’ expertise doomed them.
Reviewing a sensationalist "Yeti" hypothesis, American skeptic author Benjamin Radford suggests an avalanche as more plausible:
that the group woke up in a panic (...) and cut their way out the tent either because an avalanche had covered the entrance to their tent or because they were scared that an avalanche was imminent (...) (better to have a potentially repairable slit in a tent than risk being buried alive in it under tons of snow). They were poorly clothed because they had been sleeping, and ran to the safety of the nearby woods where trees would help slow oncoming snow. In the darkness of night, they got separated into two or three groups; one group made a fire (hence the burned hands) while the others tried to return to the tent to recover their clothing since the danger had passed. But it was too cold, and they all froze to death before they could locate their tent in the darkness. At some point, some of the clothes may have been recovered or swapped from the dead, but at any rate, the group of four whose bodies was most severely damaged were caught in an avalanche and buried under 4 meters (13 ft) of snow (more than enough to account for the 'compelling natural force' the medical examiner described). Dubinina's tongue was likely removed by scavengers and ordinary predation.
Evidence contradicting the avalanche theory includes:
A review of the 1959 investigation's evidence completed in 2015–2019 by experienced investigators from the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICRF) on request of the families confirmed the avalanche with several important details added. First of all, the ICRF investigators (one of them an experienced alpinist) confirmed that the weather on the night of the tragedy was very harsh, with wind speeds up to hurricane force, 20–30 metres per second (45–67 mph; 72–108 km/h), a snowstorm and temperatures reaching −40 °C. These factors weren't considered by the 1959 investigators who arrived at the scene of the accident three weeks later when the weather had much improved and any remains of the snow slide had settled and been covered with fresh snowfall. The harsh weather at the same time played a critical role in the events of the tragic night, which have been reconstructed as follows:
According to the ICRF investigators, the factors contributing to the tragedy were extremely bad weather and lack of experience of the group leader in such conditions, which led to the selection of a dangerous camping place. After the snow slide, another mistake of the group was to split up, rather than building a temporary camp down in the forest and trying to survive through the night. Negligence of the 1959 investigators contributed to their report creating more questions than answers, as well as inspiring numerous alternative and conspiracy theories.
In 2021, a team of physicists and engineers led by Alexander Puzrin and Johan Gaume published in Communications Earth & Environment a new model that demonstrated how even a relatively small slide of snow slab on the Kholat Syakhl slope could cause tent damage and injuries consistent with those suffered by the Dyatlov team.
In 2019, a Swedish-Russian expedition was made to the site, and after investigations, they proposed that a violent katabatic wind was a plausible explanation for the incident. Katabatic winds are somewhat rare events and can be extremely violent. They were implicated in a 1978 case at Anaris Mountain in Sweden, where eight hikers were killed and one was severely injured in the aftermath of katabatic wind. The topography of these locations were noted to be very similar according to the expedition.
A sudden katabatic wind would have made it impossible to remain in the tent, and the most rational course of action would have been for the hikers to cover the tent with snow and seek shelter behind the treeline. On top of the tent, there was also a torch left turned on, possibly left there intentionally so that the hikers could find their way back to the tent once the winds subsided. The expedition proposed that the group of hikers constructed two bivouac shelters, one of which collapsed, leaving four of the hikers buried with the severe injuries observed.
Another hypothesis popularised by Donnie Eichar's 2013 book Dead Mountain is that wind going around Kholat Syakal created a Kármán vortex street, which can produce infrasound capable of inducing panic attacks in humans. According to Eichar's theory, the infrasound generated by the wind as it passed over the top of the Holatchahl mountain was responsible for causing physical discomfort and mental distress in the hikers. Eichar claims that, because of their panic, the hikers were driven to leave the tent by whatever means necessary, and fled down the slope. By the time they were further down the hill, they would have been out of the infrasound's path and would have regained their composure, but in the darkness would have been unable to return to their shelter. The traumatic injuries suffered by three of the victims were the result of their stumbling over the edge of a ravine in the darkness and landing on the rocks at the bottom.
In one speculation, the campsite fell within the path of a Soviet parachute mine exercise. This theory alleges that the hikers, woken by loud explosions, fled the tent in a shoeless panic and found themselves unable to return for supply retrieval. After some members froze to death attempting to endure the bombardment, others commandeered their clothing only to be fatally injured by subsequent parachute mine concussions. There are indeed records of parachute mines being tested by the Soviet military in the area around the time the hikers were there. Parachute mines detonate while still in the air rather than upon striking the Earth's surface and produce signature injuries similar to those experienced by the hikers: heavy internal damage with relatively little external trauma. The theory coincides with reported sightings of glowing, orange orbs floating or falling in the sky within the general vicinity of the hikers and allegedly photographed by them, potentially military aircraft or descending parachute mines. This theory (among others) uses scavenging animals to explain Dubinina's injuries. Some speculate that the bodies were unnaturally manipulated, on the basis of characteristic livor mortis markings discovered during an autopsy, as well as burns to hair and skin. Photographs of the tent allegedly show that it was erected incorrectly, something the experienced hikers were unlikely to have done.
A similar theory alleges the testing of radiological weapons and is based partly on the discovery of radioactivity on some of the clothing as well as the descriptions of the bodies by relatives as having orange skin and grey hair. However, radioactive dispersal would have affected all, not just some, of the hikers and equipment, and the skin and hair discoloration can be explained by a natural process of mummification after three months of exposure to the cold and wind. The initial suppression by Soviet authorities of files describing the group's disappearance is sometimes mentioned as evidence of a cover-up, but the concealment of information about domestic incidents was standard procedure in the USSR and thus far from peculiar. And by the late 1980s, all Dyatlov files had been released in some manner.
International Science Times posited that the hikers' deaths were caused by hypothermia, which can induce a behavior known as paradoxical undressing in which hypothermic subjects remove their clothes in response to perceived feelings of burning warmth. It is undisputed that six of the nine hikers died of hypothermia. However, others in the group appear to have acquired additional clothing (from those who had already died), which suggests that they were of a sound enough mind to try to add layers.
Keith McCloskey, who has researched the incident for many years and has appeared in several TV documentaries on the subject, traveled to the Dyatlov Pass in 2015 with Yury Kuntsevich of the Dyatlov Foundation and a group. At the Dyatlov Pass he noted:
McCloskey also noted:
Donnie Eichar, who investigated and made a documentary about the incident, evaluated several other theories that are deemed unlikely or have been discredited:
Amateur aviation historian Andrey Shepelev considers that the group could die due to a photoflash bomb dropped by a US spy plane, and a declassified US document confirms that in the first half of 1959 there was such a secret mission near Nizhnyaya Salda. According to Shepelev, the US plane could drop a photoflash bomb, which, due to the mountainous area, exploded closer to the ground than expected. The explosion could frighten the tourists, so they left the tent and froze to death. Some of the tourists could be injured directly by the explosion.