THE DYATLOV PASS INCIDENT

It was February 27th, 1959 - the small expedition team was overdue by 12 days. They were headed to Mount Otorten, in the northern tip of Sverdlovsk Oblast, in central Russia. At the base of nearby Kholat Syakhl (meaning "Mountain of the Dead" in the local Maansi' language), the search party began finding the bodies of the lost team. The frozen dead were in their underwear, some wore clothes belonging to other team members, and most were wearing just socks or bare feet. Their bodies were found in three groupings almost a mile from their tent. The tent was buttoned closed, but a large gash was cut along its side, and the cut was made from the inside. This area is now called "Dyatlov Pass," to remember this expedition that never returned. And nearly 60 years later, what exactly happened to them is still uncertain: there were no signs of foul play, no signs of other people in the area, no signs of wild predatory animals, no signs of avalanche... From cameras and journals recovered from the team's remains, we are able to piece-together the events leading up to the night of February 1st, the night of "the incident" that claimed their lives. And perhaps enough clues exist from which we can determine what actually happened that night: a proposal will be offered below.           
The team of nine were all young and in good health and had previous experience with trekking in this type of environment. All were university students in their early 20s, with the exception of Semyon Zolotaryov, who was a 37-year-old veteran of WWII (he died on his 38th birthday). Yuri Yudin was the only survivor of this (originally ten-person) team: he fell sick and had turned back to civilization four days before "the incident."


It took until May of that year to find all of their bodies.  Here are the details of what was found at the incident site (this listing is far from exhaustive, but is an effort to include the most potentially relevant details):

The Climate: Two days before, the team diary recorded a night time temperature of -15ºF. The previous 3 days had been slow moving: strong winds from the west and southwest. Some of the last photos taken show that visibility was low due to wind carrying snow. The moon was a waning crescent (approx 36%) on Feb 1st/2nd, and it rose around 3:00AM.    


1). The Tent - Pitched at the exposed (SW) slope of Kholat Syakhl. It was found with the door/flap still buttoned shut, and multiple gashes on its side and top (with one large enough for people to climb out of the tent). It was determined that the tent was cut from the inside. A trail of footprints (single file) lead from the tent downhill (northeast) to the site of a Cedar Tree (at the edge of the forest) where the bodies of Yuri Krivonishenko and Yuri Doroshenko (and traces of a small fire) were found. The tent was on open/exposed ground; the footprints lead to forest (cover). And it did not appear that the tent had been looted: nothing appeared to be missing or rummaged-through. The footprints did not suggest running; once the team members left their tent, they did not move in great haste. Prior to the incident, one or two of the members had left the tent to urinate: given that Semyon Zolotarev and Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolle were more dressed than the others, they may have been the ones to answer nature's call during the night.


2). The Cedar Tree - The first bodies found (Yuri Krivonishenko and Yuri Doroshenko) were at the base of this tree. Traces of a small fire were here also. Their hands and feet were found burned: likely the approx -15ºF nighttime temperature had caused frostbite, and extremities which have gone numb can be susceptible to burning while attempting to thaw them in a fire. Another detail of note: the branches of this tree had been broken to approx 16ft up the tree, as if they had been ripped-down to use as firewood or to make a shelter.  


The Bodies: It was deemed that the team members had eaten 6-8 hours prior to their deaths; they likely ate dinner around 6:00-7:00PM. Thus the incident likely happened between midnight and 3:00AM. Their cause of death was officially stated as "hypothermia," however at least two of them had sustained internal injuries which would have killed them if the cold did not. Though some had internal injuries, no outward (flesh wound) signs were found. Autopsy reports note that these internal injuries were far more severe than what could be inflicted by hand - the kind of injuries that would occur by being hit by a car. Some of the bodies had a tanned hue to them and some appeared to be missing their eyes: this is consistent with the onset of desiccation (mummification) that happens in cold environments.     

A). Yuri "Yurka Kri/Krivoy" Krivonishenko - Noted to be a bit of a braggart and having a short temper. A number of the photos recovered were from his camera. Found in his underwear and shoeless. Burns on his hands and feet. Lyudmila Dubinina's foot was found wrapped in a fragment of his wool pants. Some items of clothing were tested for radioactive materials (military sites were in the vicinity): an item of Krivonishenko's clothing was found to be contaminated with radioactive material (this has since been associated with his work with radioactive materials at a plutonium production facility). 

B). Yuri Doroshenko - Found at the Cedar Tree site; hands and feet burned; in his underwear and shoeless. 

C). Zinaida "Zina/Zoya" Kolmogorova - Found among three team members who appeared to be crawling uphill, returning to the Tent from the Cedar Tree site. She was the love interest of team leader Igor Dyatlov. She was found with a long bruise on the side of her torso (perhaps falling from a tree and hitting a branch on the way down). 

D). Igor Dyatlov - Team leader; found among the three team members who appeared to be crawling uphill, returning to the Tent from the Cedar Tree site. Found with signs of pulmonary edema (fluid in lungs) and vomiting blood (which can occur from smoke inhalation).
E). Rustem "Rustik" Slobodin - Found in between Dyatlov and Kolmogorova, appearing to be crawling back to the Tent from the Cedar Tree site. Found with a skull injury (deemed to be non-fatal). Seen in a photo from a few days before the incident wearing a burned jacket (may be a significant clue, will address below).
F). Lyudmila "Luda" Dubinina - Found in a ravine, farther into the forest (75m farther away from the Tent from the Cedar Tree site). Better dressed than the others (clothing of the deceased appears to have been claimed by the survivors). Her foot was wrapped in a piece of Krivonishenko's wool pants. She may have died before Zolotaryov - he was wearing her faux fur coat and hat. Found with multiple rib fractures. Also missing her tongue, eyes, part of her lips, facial tissue, and a skull fragment (the soft tissue loss is ascribed to the fact that she was found in running water 4 months after death). Autopsy reports state that she was found with a "red slimy mass" in her stomach (and not blood, as some report due to insufficient translation of the autopsy reports).

G). Alexandr "Sasha" Kolevatov - Found among the group of four in a ravine 75m away from the Cedar Tree (in the opposite direction from the Tent). Like Dubinina, better dressed than the others (clothing of the deceased appears to have been claimed by the survivors). His materials also tested positive for radioactive contamination (this has since been associated with his working with radioactive materials).

H). Semyon Zolotaryov - A WWII veteran; fought in the front lines. Worked as a resort guide and instructor. Known as a womanizer and suspected of having interest in KolmogorovaFound among the group of four in a ravine 75m away from the Cedar Tree (in the opposite direction from the Tent). Better dressed than the others (clothing of the deceased appears to have been claimed by the survivors); found wearing Dubinina's faux fur coat and hat (suspected that he might be one of perhaps two who had to relieve themselves in the night [frozen urine outside the tent], thus he was wearing more clothing; it was his birthday - perhaps he and a few others celebrated with drinking). Found with fractured ribs.

I). Nicolai Thibeaux-BrignollesFound among the group of four in a ravine 75m away from the Cedar Tree (in the opposite direction from the Tent). Better dressed than the others (clothing of the deceased appears to have been claimed by the survivors). Found with significant injury to his skull.

The EVENTS OF THE DAYS LEADING UP TO THE INCIDENT (paraphrased from a translation of the team diary):

Jan 23, 1959 - The group leaves Sverdlovsk (now called Yekaterinburg); took the train to Serov.

Jan 24 - Krivonishenko was held by local police for disturbing people at the train station by singing; eventually released from custody. They note that they traveled with the Blinov team (a hunting party?). They leave for Ivdel at 6:30PM. 
Jan 25 - Arrived at Ivdel [site of the Lvdellag Gulag, abolished in 1956] at midnight. They plan to leave for Vizhay/41st Kvartal in the morning. Slept crammed into a "hotel" - 2 to a bed, some slept on the floor.  

Jan 26 - Left Ivdel at 1:10PM; rode to 41st Kvartal on a GAZ-63 (large pickup truck). Found a private room in a hostel.

Jan 27 - Ex-Gulag-inmate Velikyavichus (a Lithuanian) portered their equipment on a horse cart (slow moving). Heading to 2nd Severniy (an abandoned town). Arrived at 4:00PM and stayed in a house. Bought fresh bread. Yuri Yudin was falling ill. Yudin planned to return to civilization with Velikyavichus. Dyatlov told Yudin that the team would return on Feb 14th, instead of Feb 12th.

Jan 28 - Outside daytime temp: 17.5ºF. Some went with Yuri Yudin to collect mineral samples. Yudin takes leave with Velikyavichus. The team leaves on skis, following the River Lozva. They set up camp at 5:30PM. They have a wood stove inside their tent. It is noted in their diary: "Nobody wants to sleep by the stove and we agree that Yurka Kri will sleep there. Yuri moves to the second compartment with terrible cursing and accusation that we betrayed him." [This may prove to be a significant clue].
Jan 29 - Traveled from the Lozvy River to the Auspii River. They walked along a Maansi' trail. Daytime temp: 8.5ºF.
Jan 30 - Woke up at 8:30AM. Daytime temp: 1.5-8.5ºF; nightime temp: -15ºF. Strong winds SW and falling snow. Thick clouds. Camped along the Auspii River. Their stove keeps them warm: "Some think we need to construct a steam heat in the tent." 
Jan 31 - Dyatlov leaves some of their gear on a forest (hunter's) platform (to reclaim upon return). The weather becomes worse. Strong west wind, low visibility, yet the sky is clear. Snow cover is 4ft. Took a Maansi' trail. Slow moving: 1mi per hour. Leaving the Auspii Valley and rising in altitude. Set up camp at 4:00PM. They were exhausted. No time to build a fire. Ate dinner in the tent. [This was the final journal entry].    

AN EXPLANATION OF WHAT MAY HAVE HAPPENED TO THE DYATLOV TEAM 
"Occam's Razor" is the principle that when selecting among multiple competing hypotheses, one should select the hypothesis that requires the least amount of (or no) unverified or unsubstantiated materials. Of the vast number of proposals about what had happened to the Dyatlov team, most require volumes of unsubstantiated materials to be true: ball lightning, Yeti attack, UFOs, secret Soviet infrasound or microwave weapons testing, KGB-CIA Siberian battle, ergot poisoning, homicidal Gulag escapees, a love triangle feud, U.S. Special Forces attack... the list goes on and on. And many obsessed with this incident confuse objectives: trying to determine how and why the team died is not the same as trying to find an explanation for all of the materials at the incident site (many odd things there may have had no direct bearing on their deaths). If our objective is to reconstruct what happened to the team that night, maybe there is a chance that all of the pieces of the puzzle are already right in front of us. To date, the most cohesive and rational explanation has been proposed by Swedish researcher/documentarian David Wångstedt (known as LEMMiNO): the stove filled their tent with smoke, and this set in motion a chain of actions and events which led to their deaths. 

Item 1 - The team's tent was on an exposed (SW - windward) part of the slope of Kholat Syakhl, with strong SW winds blowing: they set up camp in a very bad location. 

Item 2 - Photos from previous days show something of note: Rustem Slobodin wearing a coat that looks like it had been burned. They had a wood stove in their tent, and in a diary entry [above] they noted that no one wanted to sleep near the stove. 

A PROPOSAL FOR THE SEQUENCE OF EVENTS WHICH LEAD TO DEMISE OF THE DYATLOV TEAM

Event 1 - On the night of Feb 1st, the stove began to slowly fill the tent with smoke. The strong outside winds could have had an effect on the stove: blowing air into the chimney rather than allowing the smoke to naturally escape outward. Lying asleep on the ground, the top of the tent could have filled with smoke unnoticed, then filling nearly the entire tent before it settled to the ground to awaken the sleeping team.

Event 2 - The team awakens in crisis: thick smoke, their eyes sting. They are in danger inside the tent. The tent door/flap is buttoned shut and would take too long to unfasten (imagine frozen canvas). One or more team members cut gashes into the top of the tent to vent out the smoke. This effort is not sufficient: they need to leave the tent. A large gash is cut into the side of the tent and the team clambers out. They are wearing their bed clothes: underwear, socks, etc. Igor Dyatlov's lungs are filling with fluid and he is coughing blood - he inhaled too much smoke. 

Event 3 - The team is now standing outside their tent, a bit disoriented and a few are still coughing and choking. There is a strong wind coming up the southwestern slope and they are out in the open in their underwear. Smoke is still pouring out of the side of the tent and they recognize that it may be some time before it is clear enough to re-enter. Their new objective: find or make shelter (and a fire) for a brief time until the tent clears of smoke; they need to get out of this wind.

Event 4 - Instinct and logic direct their next move: they head down the slope, going northeast, to the leeward side of the mountain and out of the wind and weather. They walk to the closest reach of forest in that direction.  

Event 5 - At the base of a cedar tree at the forest edge, one or more team members make a small fire [Rustem Slobodin was found with a box of matches on him] and they struggle to warm up, but the fire is not adequate. They are losing body heat too quickly.  

Event 6 - Despite the small fire, their arms and legs are getting numb and they are desperate to get warm. Lyudmila, Zinaida, Semyon, and likely Rustem or Nicolai climbed up the cedar tree, either to pull branches down to make a bigger fire, or to construct an improvised shelter around the fire. 

Event 7 - A new crisis arises: they fell out of the tree [the branches were torn as high as 16ft up]. Lyudmila sustained several broken ribs and a broken nose, Semyon fractured ribs also, Zinaida hit a branch on her way down and got a large bruise along her side, Rustem and Nicolai sustained skull fractures [from falling from the tree or from having someone (or a branch) fall on them]. Krivonishenko also sustained head injuries

Event 8 - They may not have recognized how severe their injuries were, but were certainly in great pain and had to keep moving if they were going to live. Around this time, Yuri Doroshenko and Yuri Krivonishenko may have been slipping into unconsciousness, or if lucid, agreed to stay at the fire and keep it going. Doroshenko and Krivonishenko were left by the meagre warmth of the fire and some of their clothing items were claimed by, or given to, the others who planned to set-off in two teams.

Event 9 - Igor, Zinaida, and Rustem were to head back uphill to the tent [perhaps to gather clothing, etc. and return to the others] and LyudmilaSemyonNicolai, and Alexandr would attempt to gather more wood for fire or shelter farther into the forest [perhaps injured enough to not be able to make the journey uphill and back to the tent].

Event 10A - The team that headed toward the tent were now in the open and hypothermia was setting in rapidly.  One by one, they died. They appeared to be crawling uphill during their last moments.

Event 10B - Doroshenko and Krivonishenko succumbed to hypothermia [perhaps even before the other teams left]: they could barely move and the dying fire was not warm enough to restore their core body temperature. They had burned their hands and feet trying to keep warm: they could no longer feel their extremities and they had been unknowingly burning them in the fire. They both died next to the fire.  

Event 10CLyudmilaSemyonNicolai, and Alexandr: the injuries sustained by 3 of them were beginning to take toll - internal bleeding and hypothermia. Movement itself is becoming a struggle. Their goal is to stay alive long enough for the others to return from the tent with warm clothing, etc.  They cannot move, let alone return to the small fire. They crawl into a cleft in a ravine, those who could move attempted to make a shelter beneath the snow. And one by one, they expired from the cold. Waiting for the others to come and find them. 

If you were not already finding yourself obsessed with this (nearly) 60-year-old mystery, there are a number of books, films, and websites dedicated to the Dyatlov Pass Incident. I'd like to give you my three favorites, among many:

• "Dyatlov-Pass.com" provides a thorough and rigorous data set for any further research: a catalog of the photos recovered from team member cameras, autopsy reports, etc. It would take over a day to comb through all of the materials provided here.

• "ErmakVagus" provides a good translation of the team journal/diary, autopsies, and radioactivity reports. Another great data source for further investigation.  

• And this video by LEMMiNO (David Wångstedt) provides perhaps the sanest explanation for what happened to the Dyatlov Team: 




             

             

     

      

Comments

  1. T. King, would it be possible to use your images of the Peralta maps? elam_doug@hotmail.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sure: just cite/credit me if you do.

      Delete
    2. ... and thanks for doing the right thing.

      Delete

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