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The Dyatlov Pass Incident

Nine experienced campers set up their tents in the Ural Mountains, in an area known as Dead Mountain.

Something, or someone, awakens them in the night, terrifying them to the point that they cut open their tent with knives and flee into the snow. Some are in their underwear and socks, and some have bare feet. The temperature was at least -30C.

When they make it to the tree-line of a nearby forest, they scatter.

A search party was organized on February 20 when an expected telegram from the group’s leader, Igot Dyatlov, never arrived.

Igor Dyatlov

Igor Dyatlov

The battered tent still had the groups’ supplies, clothing, and boots inside. Searchers were able to follow a clear path of nine pairs of footsteps heading single file to the forest.

The first bodies were found on February 26. Yuri (Georgiy) Alexeievich Krivonischenko, 24 and Yuri Nikolaievich Doroshenko, 21, were found beside the remains of a fire, shoeless and poorly dressed. Doroshenko was in a vest, short-sleeved shirt, and shorts over pants. The pants were badly torn.

Doroshenko’s hair was burned on the right side of his head. His ears, nose and lips were covered in blood, and his right armpit was bruised. On the inner surface of the right shoulder were two abrasions with no bleeding in the tissues, and two cuts on the skin.

On the upper third of right forearm were several brown-red bruises. The fingers on both hands had torn skin, possibly from climbing a tree–one of the trees above the men had broken branches fifteen feet up, and traces of bark were embedded in their skin. The upper third of Doroshenko’s legs were bruised, he had frostbite on his face and ears, and on his right cheek there were foamy grey discharges from the mouth.

Krivonischenko also had extensive bruising on his forehead, around the left temporal bone, the right side of his chest, his buttocks, his left leg, and on his hands. There were plenty of abrasions as well. The tip of his nose was missing, he had frostbitten ears, and perhaps most disturbing, some of the skin from his left hand was detached, and skin from his right hand was found in his mouth. He suffered diffuse bleeding in the right temporal and occipital region due to damage to temporalis muscle. His left leg was burned.

The bodies of three more campers were discovered between the forest and the tent. They looked as if they’d been trying to reach their camp in single file when they died.

Zinaida Kolmogorova

Zinaida Kolmogorova

Dyatlov, 23, Zinaida Alekseevna Kolmogorova, 22, and Rustem Vladimirovich Slobodin, 23, also had numerous bruises and abrasions, but were better dressed than the men found under the tree. Interestingly, Dyatlov and Vladimirovich both had bruises in the metacarpophalangeal joints on both hands, which is common in hand-to-hand combat. Dyatlov was missing a tooth. He had bloody lips, while Vladimirovich had blood coming from his nose.

It took searchers more than two months to find the remaining four campers. They were discovered on May 4 under four meters of snow, in a ravine 75 meters farther into the woods from the cedar tree. These four were better dressed than the others, and there were signs that they had taken clothing from the friends who had died earlier. These bodies had the most disturbing injuries.

Aleksander Kolevatov, 25, had a broken nose, an open wound behind his ear, and a deformed neck. Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolle, 25,  had multiple fractures to the temporal bone of the skull, with extensions to the frontal and sphenoid bones, a
bruise on the upper lip on the left side, and a large hemorrhage on the lower forearm.

The eyes of Semen Zolotarev, 38, were missing. The bones on his skull were exposed, and he had a flail chest with five ribs broken and two fractures. He also had an open wound on the right side of skull with exposed bone.

But Lyudmila Dubinina, 21, one of the two women in the group, probably suffered the most. Horrifyingly, her tongue and the muscles on the floor of her mouth were removed. The amount of blood in her stomach suggested this was done while she was still alive.  Her eyes were missing, her nose cartilages were broken and flattened, four ribs were broken on the right side and seven on the left side. She suffered a massive hemorrhage in the heart’s right atrium. Her left thigh was bruised, and she had damaged tissues around the left temporal bone.

Lyudmila Dubinina

Lyudmila Dubinina

Zolotarev and Dubinina’s injuries were very similar in direction and force despite their differences in shape, height and body composition. This would suggest that whatever caused these injuries was not a single event.

The medical examiner excluded accidental fall on the rock as a possible cause for such massive and unusual fractures. The last four bodies were crushed with immense force, and had all suffered significant damage to their bones. Doctors compared the extent of the damage to being hit by a car.

While there was a criminal investigation into the incident, Russian authorities eventually ruled that the deaths were due to a “compelling natural force” and closed the case. The records were sealed, and no one was allowed near the site for three years, which only heightened the mystery, as did the levels of radiation that were found on some of the victims’ clothes. Another strange aspect of the case is the high level of decomposition of some of the bodies, but not others. Due to the below freezing temperatures, decomposition should have been minimal.

The tents as found by the search party.

The tents as found by the search party.

So what happened to the ill-fated campers? There are tons of theories.

  • Avalanche: The problem with this popular theory is that there was no sign of an avalanche. Other than the damage done by the campers while they were escaping, the tent was still intact. The searchers could clearly see the campers’ footprints. And the area was not known for avalanches.
  • Infrasounds: A low-frequency sound that could have been caused by the wind going around the mountain. Infrasounds have apparently been known to drive people crazy, but since two of the campers built a successful fire, it doesn’t seem like they were completely mad. And wouldn’t the effects of the infrasound wear off before everyone died? It seems strange that it would have affected nine reportedly level-headed, capable people the same way.
  • Government cover-up/conspiracy: This happened during the Cold War, so the military involvement in the investigation raised some eyebrows. There is a lot of speculation that the campers stumbled upon something they shouldn’t have, or were killed accidentally during a weapons test, and the government then staged their deaths to look like an accident. By why such elaborate staging? Why not leave the bodies all in one place? And why tear out one woman’s tongue and the muscles inside her mouth? If they were trying to make the deaths look like a run-of-the-mill accident, I’d say they did a shitty job.
  • Yeti/Bigfoot: This theory really took off when a piece of paper was discovered in the tent. One of the campers had written, “From now on we know, that snowmen exist.” But there were no large prints at the site, nor the destruction of bodies we’d expect to see if there was an animal involved. The tent was cut open from the inside. And unless there were a team of Yetis, how did one creature take out nine people without leaving evidence of a struggle at the scene? Some believe the note was planted at the site, or made up later, or was a joke. There’s no evidence to believe it was serious.

    Bigfoot? This photo was supposedly taken with a victim's camera. To me, it looks like a man in a hooded jacket.

    Bigfoot? This photo was supposedly taken with a victim’s camera. To me, it looks like a man in a hooded jacket.

  • UFOs: It’s pretty obvious how this theory caught on–the military involvement and the radiation on the clothing of some of the victims. Since the campers were students who worked in labs, some believe the radiation came from the university, but I call bullshit on that. I doubt they wore the same clothing camping that they did in a lab–usually protective clothes are in order when you’re working with radiation, even in the 1950s. When one of the police inspectors brought a Geiger counter to the scene, it reportedly went nuts, which could have been from military testing in the area. The same inspector also noticed the tops of some of the trees were burned. Others who were camping nearby reported seeing mysterious orange lights in the sky around the time the group died, and the last photo taken by the group shows huge, blurry lights.
  • Avalanche Paranoia: Some believe that the group could have heard rumbling on the mountain and fled their camp, thinking an avalanche was imminent. But wouldn’t they have eventually headed back? And would everyone have been struck with this paranoia simultaneously? By all reports, these were serious and experienced outdoors people who had gone on many similar excursions.
  • Mansi People: This theory purports that the local nomadic herders attacked the group for encroaching on their land. But not only did the Mansis not view the mountain as sacred–they called it “Dead Mountain” because of the lack of game. They’d also learned long before not to piss off the Russians, and were super cooperative with the police, even helping with the search to find the campers. They had no motive.
  • Wolves/Bears/Other animals: Again, no prints, and not enough destruction of the soft tissues of the bodies. Also, no sign that any of the bodies were dragged. Animals tend to be messy eaters. And they certainly wouldn’t have left the supplies in the tent untouched for months.

Interestingly enough, one theory that’s never mentioned is the human element (beyond the Mansis). If you delve into this case, you’ll see lots of claims that there were no signs of a struggle or defensive wounds on the bodies. But all of the bruising–especially on the hands and face–the fractures, the abrasions–could definitely be the result of a struggle. But what immense force crushed the bodies? Why did some live longer than others? Why did they decompose at different rates, and what on earth was going on with that radiation?

As frustrating as it is to contemplate, the Dyatlov Pass Incident is a mystery that will most likely never be solved. Many of the people involved in the investigation are dead.

Yuri Yudin, 22, the only surviving member of the group, died in 2013. He became ill and had to turn back before the campers trekked into the mountains. He wasn’t with them on that fateful night.

“If I had a chance to ask God just one question, it would be, ‘What really happened to my friends that night?’” he once said. Me too, Yuri.

What do you think happened at Dyatlov Pass? Let’s talk theories!

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44 Comments

  1. Interesting. This story raises more questions than it answers. I wonder if the data collected was ever reanalized using todays forensic procedures?

    First, to have nine people leave their clothes and supplies suggest a forced evacuation, not a fearful flee from monsters. Human element.

    Second, the victims seem to have bruising consistent with fighting and possibly restraint. Did they fight among themselves or with some foe.

    Third, the facial mutilations are just plain wrong. No animal would do that. I can’t imagine bigfoot getting a kick out of it either. This screams torture by, “gasp”, humans.

    Fourth, evidence in a snow covered crime sight would be covered by snow, melted away, then recovered, not to mention the mess made by searchers. So stating that there was no evidence of foul play is technically correct but misleading.

    Eep. This response is getting long. I have no theories on the crushed bodies. Maybe a weapon, maybe an explosion and the bodies were later dumped.

    Reply
    • JH

      Hey Bonnie,

      Yeah, this is definitely a puzzling one. Hard to make sense of it, that’s for sure.

      The evidence was never reanalyzed, because it was Cold War Russia and they “lost” most of it, including a diary that was owned by one of the campers. Yuri Yudin noticed that it wasn’t among his friends’ recovered belongings. A camera was also missing. Yuri also identified a pair of glasses and a ski pole found at the scene as NOT belonging to his friends. The plot thickens….

      You had a very good point about a forced evacuation. No one else that I could find has ever considered that. Everyone’s been working from the “they were so scared, they ran out of the tent without socks” theory. I think you could be right.

      Reply
  2. Okay that was SO weird. I hate unsolved cases, especially gruesome ones like this. Poor people, such bad luck. I had to admit though this Yeti team thing got me laughing 😀
    Thanks for commenting on my blog, nice of you.
    “Haneen/I Will Never Give you Up (479)”

    Reply
    • JH

      Of course, Haneen! I’m big into supporting other bloggers. If you visit my site, I definitely will visit yours in return. It’s a “thing” with me. 😉

      I’d give anything to have this one resolved. It’s just too weird.

      Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Patricia. It’s certainly an incredible story. The more you dig, the more you find. I could have written a novel!

      I feel the same way. I love unsolved mysteries, even though they can be frustrating.

      Reply
  3. My gut says human, and considering the era (Cold War,) location (remote, mountainous region of the USSR) and calculated brutality of the assault, it definitely suggests human attack. I agree with Bonnie regarding the reanalyzing of evidence using modern day resources, but if the Soviet military knew info about this that they want to keep quiet, chances of that happening are slim I would guess.

    Great read!

    Reply
    • JH

      Hi Dwight, and welcome to my blog! Nice to “see” you on here.

      Yeah, most of the evidence has already been “lost.” Funny how that happens. One of the strange things is the police investigator who showed up with a Geiger counter–why? How did they know to test for radiation?

      My gut is going the same way as yours. Those poor kids saw something they shouldn’t have, and I don’t think it was a UFO.

      Reply
      • JH

        Just thought of something…if people killed them, why did the last four live so much longer than the rest?

        Reply
  4. That is a fascinating and horrible tale. I’m voting for government conspiracy with additional criminal behavior. The woman who was missing her tongue might have been an informant, and that was her punishment for talking.

    Have there been movies made about this? I’d never heard it before.

    Play off the Page

    Reply
    • JH

      Hmm, excellent theory, Mary! I see none of my readers are willing to take the Big Foot or space alien leap, and that’s probably a good thing. 😉

      There’s a movie called Devil’s Pass. I haven’t seen it, but it’s come recommended.

      Reply
  5. Wow, that is really mysterious. Considering the time period and the fact it was in Russia, my guess is that there was a fight between the campers, perhaps they ate moldy bread and got ergot. Faulty autopsies could explain the weirdness of some of the injuries – certain things like the crush injuries cold be post-mortem and animals may have accounted for the missing eyes before the body was buried under snow.

    I’m not doing A-Z this year but your blog title caught my eye. I loved your post – and all things horror!
    Lexa Cain’s Blog

    Reply
  6. Horrifying story. I’m left wondering why the women were brutalized more than the men. Not that they weren’t brutalized horribly. This is a genesis of a horror story. Wish I wrote horror, but I don’t. Has someone used this to create a book?

    Reply
    • JH

      I’m sure they have, but I haven’t stumbled across a book yet. Just a lot of docs and a horror movie. It is a story that sticks with you, that’s for sure.

      Thanks for commenting! And for reading…this was a long one, but I needed to do it justice.

      Reply
  7. First, how in the world did you have time to write all of this?

    With that out of the way, this is fascinating. I thought I had it all figured out until the radiation part. And then the crushing? I’m too tired to put much more thought into it but you’ve given my mind a puzzle to play with that I won’t soon forget.

    Reply
    • JH

      It was a struggle, Frank. I don’t think I would have chosen this topic if I knew how labour intensive it was going to be. Ten hours of research and two hours of writing–yikes! But I really wanted to do it justice.

      Yes, I thought Bonnie and Dwight had good theories, but it still doesn’t explain why the tent was cut open, or why four of the group lived so much longer than the others and had terrible injuries. If they survived the first incident, whatever it was, why didn’t they get the hell out of there at dawn? It seems like maybe more than one thing happened to that poor group.

      Reply
  8. Yikes! How bizarre. Still, it could be human, animal or alien attacks, I guess. Investigative techniques weren’t that great back when, and when you combine superstition and time lapse, well, just about anything could come up…

    Untethered Realms

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome to my blog, Gwen! Hope to see you back here.

      Investigative techniques weren’t great, true, but the search team could clearly see the tracks of the campers and no one else–no other people and no animals. The damage done to the bodies wasn’t consistent with animals, either. It’s all very strange.

      Reply
  9. That is really freaky. Yes, the thought of a creature like Bigfoot crossed my mind, but there was no evidence of it and I don’t believe such creatures exist. Sound human, although what human (or humans) would be capable of doing those things to an entire party of campers is hard to imagine.

    Reply
    • JH

      Without leaving any evidence of them being there, either. That’s one of the many things about this story that is so weird. It’s clear that four of the campers survived longer than the others–long enough to dig themselves a den in a ravine and steal clothes from the dead. Those were the ones with the worst injuries. If they were capable of doing all that, it’s a wonder they just didn’t leave when it was light.

      Welcome to my new blog, Alex, and thanks so much for commenting!

      Reply
    • JH

      Now that’s what every blogger wants to hear, Tami! Thanks so much for the kind words. I’ll definitely check out your site.

      Reply
  10. Wow! What a creepy tale. Definitely not one to tell when sitting around a campfire… then again,that could be the perfect time, as well, depending on who you are with.

    I’m surprised that I hadn’t heard of this one before. What a head-scratcher. Nothing adds up!

    ~Tui Snider
    I’m doing the A to Z Challenge at:
    Tui’s Offbeat & Overlooked and
    Storydam

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Tui. It is the ultimate unsolved mystery, I think.

      As for the campfire, you’d have to have an audience who liked long stories.

      Reply
  11. That was one of the strangest mysteries I ever heard. Fascinating.

    Reply
    • JH

      Same for me. I’ll never forget it.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  12. I’ve read ( and reread ) all of the A-Z blogs up to R, so far as written, as this is by far the most intriguing.

    Reply
    • JH

      I agree, Shelley. It’s my favourite post of the bunch.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  13. See, you thought no one would go with the Bigfoot theory, but here I am!

    I think Bigfoot is nature’s perfect creature with the attributes of human and animal. Maybe we didn’t all evolve and some of us headed back into the jungle/woods to live.
    Maybe they set up camp in Bigfoot’s living room and he wasn’t having it. Superior strength could account for the destruction of the bodies, but he prefers not to eat the humans cause they look too much like him. 🙂

    Heather M. Gardner
    Co-host: Blogging from A to Z April Challenge
    Blog: The Waiting is the Hardest Part [http://hmgardner.blogspot.com/]

    Reply
    • JH

      Ah, but the footprints, Heather…where were the footprints? Or the signs of a struggle? And how did Bigfoot crush them without leaving external signs of damage?

      I do like the image of Bigfoot’s living room, though.

      Reply
  14. Hi there- I just read your interview post with Alex today and I’m so glad he featured you. I love your theme and totally missed this while doing the challenge. I will be back for sure! Very creepy and interesting and fascinating and aggravating that we don’t know the answers.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Holli, and welcome to my blog! I’m a Holli too. 🙂

      Dyatlov aggravates me enough to keep me awake at night. I blog on the same theme every Tuesday and Wednesday, so I hope I’ll see you again. You’re most welcome!

      Reply
  15. I believe the nine campers accidentally trekked through an ancient burial ground thereby awakening one of its sleeping residents. We know the attacks were brutal and the injuries horrific.. It seems to me, if my theory is correct, that the awakened entity, was extremely angry and chased them all over the mountain top for a reason. The creature obviously had the ability to temporarily take physical form. The mind twister is no footprints, so the creature must have hyper-phased in and out of time and one by one it relentlessly slaughtered the intruders for their crime against the undead. Its scary to think such lifeforms even exist. Another way of looking at this is the spirit world could have summoned the Yetis, (who know the mountains very well) to do their bidding for them.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for visiting my blog, Spacerguy. Welcome!

      Honestly, your theory makes as much sense as anything else I’ve read so far, and that’s saying something.

      Reply
  16. I was looking up new game releases and discovered that a game called Kholat is based on this story. How cool is that?

    Reply
    • JH

      Very cool! Are you going to try it?

      Reply
      • No. I’m terrified of horror. But I need to know what’s out there in the game world for my son. That way I sound like I know what I’m talking about.

        Reply
        • JH

          Terrified of horror, you? I thought your own writing was fairly dark.

          Are you back at SiWC this year?

          Reply
  17. Finally got sufficient time at my computer to read this post! And I love it 🙂

    Personally I think the cause is weird but natural. No conspiracy, no yeti or aliens, but simply natural elements and human nature. How those combined to achieve this result, I wouldn’t dare to guess, but I do know that evidence may have vanished before it was found.

    Besides, humans are prone to draw conclusions based on incomplete facts by filling the gaps with presumptions without even realising it. Indeed, modern forensics might have shone a different light on the case, but after this long, it is impossible to piece it back together. Even written reports are to be mistrusted, because they will only contain what the investigators back then considered important, tainted by their natural presumptions to boot.

    But isn’t that always the problem with “cold cases”? (please ignore the unintentional pun ;P )

    Thanks for taking the time to research this mystery as well as you did. An informative and inspirational post indeed!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Chris! I’m so glad you took the time to read and comment. I, too, lean away from the more fantastic explanations, but I do think there was probably some foul play involved of the human kind.

      Reply
  18. There is also another scenario that apparently no one has contemplated: instead of “something” exterior to the group that threatened them, it could have been something inside the group. I mean a squarrel, a fight. That could explain why the group split: people gathering according to their sympathies. Indeed, it seems very unlikely to me that, if an unknown force exterior to the group had treathened them, they’d split. In such situations, people stay together. Also, it has been reported that Igor Dyatlov and Rustem Slovodin had bruises on their arms and hands typicall of a fist fight. This can happen sometimes, even in experimented groups, that wrath and anger in dispute lead to such kind of extreme behaviour.

    Reply
    • JH

      Hmm. Interesting theory. I think you have something there.

      Reply
      • Thanks. That was just my two cents. If this is what happened, it still seems strange that no one in the group, specially the girls, attempted to calm everything down. I’ve been in many holidays mountain groups when I was a teenager, and my experience is that, in such situations, girls often want to calm everything down. So basically there is still some part of a mystery in this whole affair.

        Reply
        • JH

          Yes, I’d say quite a bit of mystery!

          Reply

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