Considering the mystery and debate surrounding it, surprisingly few have actually ever heard of the Dyatlov Pass incident. Hundreds of reports on the incident exist, but none with a conclusive solution. I myself only became aware of the incident a number of weeks ago during some research on the Darwin Awards. When I first heard snippets of the news, my interest was immediately sparked. Reading further really got my WTF ticking over. A brilliant article in the St. Petersburg Times seems to be relied upon heavily by most of those without the actual original documents. This article was of great help in my research.
On January 28, 1959, a group of ten students from the Ural Polytechnic Institute embarked on a skiing expedition to Ortorten Mountain in the northern Urals. The pass itself is located at roughly 61°45'17"N 59°27'46"E. The party consisted of eight men and two women: Igor Dyatlov, Ziniaida Kolmogorova, Lyudmila Dubinina, Alexander Kolevatov, Rustem Slobodin, Yuri Krivonischenko, Yuri Doroshenko, Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolle, Alexander Zolotarev, and Yuri Yudin. All of them were experienced skiers, campers and hikers. Dyatlov led the party, and the pass was renamed in his honour. Yudin fell ill a short way into the journey, and was forced to turn back. Because of this, he is the only member of the group to have survived. This is where we start to get holes in the story. The mystery is due mainly to a lack of eyewitnesses and a number of significant documents from the original investigation never being released by the government of the then USSR. Reconstructions of the events that followed are based on the diaries and cameras of the group. These leave many questions unanswered. Yudin is now famously quoted saying, "If I had a chance to ask God just one question, it would be, "What really happened to my friends that night?".
The group were originally expected back on February 12. It was not uncommon for expeditions of this sort to be delayed by a day or two, and Dyatlov apparently indicated to Yudin when they parted that he expected to extend the trip by a few days. It was not until the 20th that relatives reported them missing, and the institute sent out a volunteer search-and-rescue team. Government aircraft were dispatched a few days later. Their camp was found on February 26.
Investigators were able to determine that on February 2, the group set up camp for the night on the slope of Kholat-Syakhl, pitching their tent at around 5:00 pm. Nine skiers slept in the same tent? Only one tent was found, and the dimensions of their tent are unknown, leaving a possibility of at least one other, unrecovered tent. Exactly why they chose this spot already raises some questions. A forest just 1.5 kilometres downhill would've provided them with firewood and shelter from the elements. Some time around 10:00 pm, the tent was torn or cut open from the inside. Footprints of eight or nine people, some barefoot, some in socks, led from the tent 500 metres toward the forest, through metre-deep snow. No evidence was found of any struggle or of any other people beside the skiers being in the camp.
The bodies of Krivonischenko and Doroshenko lay next to the remnants of a fire under a pine at the edge of the forest. They were barefoot, and dressed only in their underwear. Broken tree-branches overhead and scattered around them suggest that someone, not necessarily either of those two, may have climbed the tree. Was it to get away from someone or something that was chasing them? Or for a better view, perhaps to try and locate the camp or the rest of the group? The bodies of Dyatlov, Kolmogorova and Slobodin were found next. They were laying between the tree and the camp in poses that indicated they had been trying to return to the camp. Slobodin's skull was fractured, but the injury was not considered fatal. A criminal investigation was immediately opened, but autopsies showed the five had all died of hypothermia. Yet how had they walked over a kilometre barefoot in -30 degree C conditions?
Two months later, the bodies of the remaining four -- Thibeaux-Brignolle, Dubinina, Kolevatov and Zolotarev -- were found in a ravine 75 metres from the pine, buried under four metres of snow. Thibeaux-Brignolle's skull had been crushed, as had the rib-cages of Dubinina and Zolotarev. Dubinina's tongue was also missing. None of them showed any external injuries however. The force required to cause their skeletal injuries was far too great for any human without mechanical assistance. However, it could easily have been generated by falling into the ravine, being hit by an avalanche, or some kind of explosion. These four were better clad than the others, and had apparently taken the clothes of those who died first as some were found wearing others' clothes, or fragments of them. A test of the clothes revealed they were contaminated with high levels of radiation.
The investigation was closed after a few months, and the case files were sent to a secret archive, some of which have still never been declassified. A "compelling unknown force" was blamed for their deaths in the official report, and no one was allowed in the area for three years. So, what exactly was this "compelling unknown force" that quite literally scared the pants off of nine experienced skiers, causing them to flee their tent in the middle of the night? While numerous theories have been put forward as to what happened that night, after fifty years, we may never be able to find out the truth.
The Mansi, a local indigenous tribe, were the only other nearby inhabitants. The fact that they had no sacred land in the area gave them no reason for hostility, thus leaving them in the clear.
Multiple eyewitnesses, including campers, the weather service and the military, reported seeing bright orange spheres in the night sky in the direction of Kholat-Syakhl several times during the expedition. Being an amateur satellite observer, I'm immediately inclined to see a connection between these spheres and the campers. How would you feel if you went outside in the middle of the night to go to the toilet, and saw a bunch of fiery orange balls hurtling out of the sky at you? The cries of whoever saw them would certainly have awoken the other campers. Were these UFOs a meteor shower, re-entering space junk, part of a missile test at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, or even something else? If some kind of missile test did happen, records of it must be somewhere. And if this is the case, whoever was responsible must know what actually happened. If the spheres came from outside the Earth's atmosphere, there is no reason to expect any traces of them to still be left, as they could've easily burned up before reaching the ground proper. Maybe some bits, say a fuel tank, even exploded at near ground level.
The tent was partly buried in snow, suggesting an avalanche may have hit it. The area was prone to them, but not at that time of year. If military testing was done, this could have caused an unnatural avalanche. If Dubinina were suddenly hit by a large amount of snow with her tongue out, she could've easily bitten it off.
Did the radiation in the clothing come from contaminated snow, a nuclear explosion, or simply their lanterns? The lanterns they were carrying may have been of a type that uses a radioactive wick. Another possible source of radiation exposure would be a radioisotope thermoelectric generator. Russia is still littered with RTGs, and these campers could've parked their tent on top of one. Maybe they even accidentally the whole thing, causing it to explode, and the orange spheres resulted from this. Several reports from the funeral state that the skin of the bodies was tanned a dark-orange, and that their hair had been turned grey. Direct exposure to an atomic blast could achieve both of these.
A recent re-inquest into the incident concluded that the nine deaths were caused by secret military testing in the area, and that the skiers had inadvertently gotten in the way. Whether the truth is ever discovered, these nine are unlikely to be soon forgotten.