The Bizarre Deaths at Dyatlov Pass

Hey, readers. This month’s Mystery Monday post also takes us over the waters of the Atlantic to the continent of Europe and the country of Russia. A little warning if you’re a little squeamish.

In 1959 Igor Dyatlov, a 23-year-old radio engineering student at the Ural Polytechnical Institute assembled a group of nine other hikers for a skiing expedition across the northern Urals in Sverdiovsk Oblast in what was then the Soviet Union.

Each member of the group, eight men and two women were experienced Grade II hikers with ski tour experience. Upon their return, all would receive their Grade III certification, the highest certification level in the Soviet Union at that time.

On January 23, 1959, Dyatlov’s group issued their route book which would take them on a course following the number five trail. They departed Sverdiovsk on the same day. One of the original ten members left the expedition on January 28 due to illness. (Incidentally, he lived until 2013, passing away at the age of seventy-five.)

The remaining nine continued the expedition. Sometime between February 1 and 2, all nine died under mysterious circumstances. On the night of the incident, they had set up camp on the slope of a mountain. They apparently enjoyed dinner and got ready for bed but never returned home.

The group’s tomb at Mikhailovskoe Cemetery (Public Domain)

On February 26 a search party found the hikers’ abandoned tent which had been ripped open from the inside. Footprints left by the group were found nearby. Some of them wore socks, others a single shoe, and others were barefoot.

All the footprints led to the edge of a nearby forest. Searchers found two bodies there, shoeless and wearing only underwear. The remaining seven bodies were discovered in the following months.

The cause of death for six of the group was hypothermia. One victim had major skull damage, two others had severe chest trauma, and another had a small crack in the skull. Four of the bodies were found lying in running water. Three of these had soft tissue damage to the head and face. Two were missing their eyes, another was missing the tongue, and another the eyebrows.

Numerous theories as to the cause of death include animal attacks, hypothermia, avalanche, katabatic winds, and infrasound. Infrasound is a phenomenon in which the wind interacts with the topography to create a barely audible hum. This can induce powerful feelings of nausea, panic, dread, chills, nervousness, increased heart rate, and breathing difficulties.

Some speculate the deaths came about because of an attack by a Yeti. The official investigation concluded that a “compelling natural force” caused the deaths.

Russia opened a new investigation in 2019. In 2020, the conclusion that an avalanche had caused the deaths. Survivors were forced to leave camp in low visibility 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 scientific study published in 2021 suggested a “slab avalanche” could explain some of the injuries.

But as you might expect, there are some who wonder what really happened to drive these experienced hikers from their tent inadequately clothed in conditions that would lead to certain death.

A nearby mountain pass was renamed Dyatlov Pass in honor of the group’s leader.