The Dyatlov Pass Accident
Creepiness warning. This is about the Dyatlov Pass Accident, the mysterious deaths of nine young skiers in Russia in 1959. I’d never heard of this until recently, but it was big news in Russia at the time. Then it was covered up, possibly by the KGB, and more or less forgotten about until the collapse of the Soviet Union. That brought out new records and new witnesses, but by no means solved the case. What happened to the nine skiers that long past dark February on the slopes of Kholat-Syakhl mountain?
The basics of the story are simple. Nine experienced cross country skiers went out on a two week cross country ski trek. Actually eight men and two women set out, one of the men got sick and left the trek very early. They set out January 27th 1959. After a few days travel they got delayed or sidetracked by bad weather crossing Dyatlov pass, and set up camp on the slopes of Kholat-Syakhl mountain. This much was reconstructed at the scene and by reading their diaries and developing film found in their cameras (shades of Blair Witch!)
And that was that. They were supposed to return no later than February 12th. When they didn’t return on time, it took awhile to get a search underway. (Being a few days late was normal for a trek like that.) However, as the time went by and there was no sign of them, the search got more and more serious. On February 26th, nearly a month after their departure, their abandoned camp was found. What had happened? They had cut or torn their way out of the tents, and run downhill toward a wooded area some 1.5 kilometres away. They were wearing few if any clothes, and all of them apparently died of hypothermia. What in the name of God would make experienced winter campers flee their tents almost naked and die in the 25-30 C below zero weather?
It gets weirder. While six of them died of hypothermia, three of them had crushing injuries consistent with being struck by a car. One of them was missing her tongue. None of their belongings were gone, and there was no evidence that anyone else had been at the scene. Those are the basic facts. It’s also alleged that Russian military helicopter crews refused to transport the bodies, and that a civilian helicopter was eventually hired by the families for that purpose. Some of the bodies may have been radioactive, and some family members reported the victim’s skin was orange or burned and that all of their hair had turned grey. A group camping to the south of them reported seeing strange orange spheres in the sky over the doomed group the night they died.
And as previously mentioned, the government clamped down on all discussion of the accident. The formal inquest concluded that they had fled their tents because of some “unknown compelling force” and died of hypothermia. All of them fled their tents, the three injured ones were injured after they had fled. The injuries were so severe it was concluded they could not have been inflicted by human beings.
What the hell? I mean, this isn’t some Twilight Zone episode…this really happened. There are a lot of theories, none very convincing. Some have suggested that other humans were involved: local tribesmen, security troops for a secret installation, escaped convicts from a gulag. The local tribesmen are basically pretty mellow, there was no evidence of other people, and all of their possessions were intact. Some sort of secret weapon testing? Normally stuff like that is tested in secure military areas, not out in public. And there’s no evidence of any sort of weapons testing.
An avalanche made them panic and run out in the night? Some sort of weird ultrasound effect drove them into a frenzy? A botched alien abduction? What do you think? I have an idea, but here are more details if the reader wants to come to their own conclusion before reading my brilliant analysis. For a quick overview of the case check out this SF Chronicle article. For a more detailed overview and some pictures, read this article from the MoscowTimes.com. And as always, there’s a wikipedia article.
I think this can be explained as a case of hypothermia and paradoxical undressing. Basically when people start to die from hypothermia, their brains don’t work right, and they do weird things like get undressed even though it is deadly cold. They had the poor judgement to camp on the windswept side of a mountain in ferocious weather. This was 1959 remember, they may have been well equipped for the time, but basically camping in the open during sub zero weather meant that the wind and cold sucked the heat right out of their bones. And while these were experienced trekkers, they were also college students and may not have had the wisdom of older trekkers. Why did they camp on the mountainside when they could have hiked 1.5 kilometres down into the shelter of the woods? The overconfidence of youth? Possibly the beginning stages of hypothermia were setting in and their judgement was already impaired?
This explains the panicked flight and undressing. Running around in the dark half crazed and running into rocks etc could explain the injuries. A scavenger could explain the missing tongue. Typical Soviet paranoia could explain the secrecy. Details about radioactivity, burned skin, grey hair, and orange spheres aren’t necessarily true. They don’t seem to appear in the original inquest. And remember, the scene wasn’t found until weeks after the deaths, plenty of time for the elements to obscure details and make it look more mysterious than it was. And I can see why the families would want to search for some other explanation, who would want to believe their kids did something really dumb and died naked in the snow as a result? I’m sure more than one group of people has frozen to death in Russia, these things happen.
Still, whatever happened to these lost kids, a sad and curious case. They’d likely be old folks with families and lives today, instead of a few old snapshots posted in the backwaters of the Internet.
For first time readers, welcome to Doug’s Darkworld. This post is one of my most popular posts of all time, if you liked it you might also like The Moorgate Tube Crash Deconstructed , The Sun Became Dark, its Darkness Lasted for Eighteen Months, and Sydney vs. Kormoran. A number of Doug’s Darkworld posts are available in a more organized fashion on the Doug’s Darkworld Annex. I am a professional writer and my commercial site is Doug Stych, Writer-at-Large. Peace.
(The above images are claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. They are not being used for profit and are central to illustrating the post. They are arguably historically important images. The top is a picture of Yury Yudin, the soul survivor, hugging Lyudmila Dubinina as he leaves the group. Igor Dyatlov, the group’s leader, watches. This picture was recovered from film found at the death site. The second picture is of their grave site. God rest their souls.)