Vladimir Askinadzi shares his memories with Natalia Varsegova
Nowadays Vladimir Askinadzi lives in the city of Sevastopol. In 1959 he was fifth year student of UPI and an experienced trekker. He took part in the North Urals search of the missing hikers. That is what Vladimir Mihaylovich remembers about the events.
- In the middle of April, they call me to the Party Committee of the UPI and instruct me to recruit a group of students to look for Dyatlov group. We had to change Blinov's group, which had been searching for a long time at the pass, but found no one. I hardly managed to pick up five students, because no one wanted to go - we had exams. I suggested that the authorities wait with the search till the snow melts. But they didn’t want to hear about it. We were promised an academic absence from the exams and keeping our scholarships in the event of our delay at the pass. And just before my departure, I was again summoned to the party committee and told bluntly: make sure the hikers didn’t abscond to America through the North Pole. And if you find any details that speak of them leaving to America, then do not talk to anyone about it. When I told the guys about the escape to America, they laughed for a long time. Nansen has been preparing for years to conquer the North Pole, and our supposedly on a whim decided to make it through the entire Arctic Ocean. In addition, without skis! After all, all their skis were found around the tent.
I'm sorry, Vladimir Mihaylovich, but did the wise men in the institute party committee thought like that, who could imagine such a foolishness?
- Exactly. It was only six years after Stalin's death. The country was still living in fear. The party was recruited in the party committees plain men who did not know how to think at all, but could obey and strictly follow instructions. And they are not saints strictly speaking. In addition, I am convinced that this marvel was not a product of our Party Committee, but the idea of Dyatlov group making a run for America was a product of a higher party leadership.
Vladimir Mihaylovich, you personally found Lyudmila Dubininа. Tell us how it happened. We have difficulty imagining technically how using a probe you can differentiate that under the thick snow, there is not earth, but a body. After all, the bodies were frozen and hardened.
- We had professional emergency avalanche probes designed to search for bodies. There is a hook at the end. It is necessary to poke, turn and pull it back. Mostly we pulled moss with the hook. And then I took out the probe and saw a piece of meat on the hook .... We immediately began to dig in that place. This was how Lyuda Dubinina was found. She was kneeling in a creek. They began to dig more, and a half-meter from Lyuda appeared someone's head. Lyuda was in the way, and we dragged her aside. Put the face on the snow, covered with some rags. Dug a little more, and found the rest.
This is a photo of Vladimir Askinadzi made during his search in early May 1959. He is in the foreground, on his back is dangling a grouse that was shot an hour ago.
When you dug them out, supposedly Semen Zolotaryov had a notebook in one hand, and in another pencil?
- Yes, the memory of the episode with a notebook made a big impression on me. Because Colonel Ortyukov, who directed the searches, somehow behaved inadequately. He jumped like a madman when he saw that there was a notebook in the hands of one of the bodies. We couldn’t say who that was. We didn’t know the guys, and they were practically unrecognizable. So, Ortyukov grabbed the notebook and began to turn the pages, and I stood beside him. He flipped the pages back and forth, but they were blank. And Ortyukov cursed under his breath, I don't remember his words exactly, but he said something like: "Ah, slug, couldn’t write anything ...".
The book was submerged in the water. Maybe it blurred the records?
- May be.
And where is this notebook now?
- I don’t know. But there is a photo of Ortyukov holding this notebook in his right hand.
Colonel Ortyukov holding in his right hand the notebook allegedly found on Zolotaryov
So you found the bodies, what happened next?
- Next came the question: who will pull the bodies out? We drew straws, the soldiers got to do it. We watched them working. Radio operator Nevolin sent a telegram right away, and the next morning the leadership from Sverdlovsk flew in.
Was regional prosecutor Klinov among them?
- There were a lot of people. And who is who - they did not introduce themselves. I only knew one person: investigator Ivanov. He behaved surprisingly detached. He didn’t even make enough photos of the crime scene. If I was an investigator, I would be all over the place, documenting everything. And he was indifferent, hands in his pockets. Apparently, everything was clear to him and that's why everything is already indifferent. In my opinion, he did not even approach the bodies. By the way, on the same day Ivanov flew away. We talked with him before the left, and he told me - I promise you as a reward photos from Dyatlov's films. But he didn’t give me anything.
What did you talk about?
- I told him how the searches were going. How we first found the den, and only after that the bodies. By the way, Mansi Kurikovs lead us to the den. I see them talking in their own language and point to small broken spruce twigs, no larger than the little finger, which were sticking from under the snow. These branches, as it were, indicated the path from the chopped fir-trees to the ravine. It turned out that the hikers cut off the branches and dragged them into the ravine, losing some debris of the branches along the way. Where the path ended, there we started digging. The snow was wet, caked. We cut down blocks and took them out. That’s how we found the den. With trembling hands - thinking that we will now find the guys - we scooped up the snow. When we saw an empty den, it became very painful. Where are they? And they were close to the den, literally at arms length. Although for some reason it is publicized that they were a few meters away. This is not true. I remember well that the bodies lay nearby.
Vladimir Mihaylovich, is it possible to have happened the following way. The guys dug a hole, laid the clothes on the bottom. And then they decided to dig a cave from the pit wall. In the cave would be warmer. They did not know that a stream was flowing under them. When they started digging they fell into the creek, and the snow fell on top of them. Hence the fractures of the ribs, and the head could be broken by a stone underneath...
If we assume that hikers trampled the den in the ravine under such a cornice, and then start digging a cave, they could be suppressed by snow falling down. Hence, fractures of the ribs, and trauma to the skull
- I do not think they could have dug a hole and a cave with their bare hands. They may have trampled a small pit for the den, and after that it snowed on top. The depth is about right. And why did they make a fire by the cedar? The head of Nikolay Thibeaux-Brignolle is broken, most likely, with a butt stroke. The size and shape of the wound is very indicative.
There is an opinion that strong winds prevented the hikers from making a sufficiently big fire and maintain it long enough to keep them warm and that’s why they died. That they froze because of the wind. But when we were on the pass both in summer and in winter, we couldn’t but notice that on the slope of Kholat Syakhl, where the tent was, the wind blew monstrously strong. And when you go down to the cedar, there's a complete calm, the light of a lighter will not flicker. When you were under the cedar, did you notice the winds?
- I remember the same thing. On the slope there were very strong winds, and under the cedar it was calm.
How, in your opinion, did the tragedy happen?
- I like the version with a poisonous cloud, which covered them, if you do not consider the causes of injuries. They began to choke, Dyatlov ordered everyone to cut the tent and run. But it is unclear how did the injuries happen. I think they were killed. But who and why - I don’t know. The whole epic from leaving the tent to their demise, it's as if encompass several unrelated events. Now I believe that there are criminals involved. I have a photo of the bodies under the cedar, hitherto unknown to anyone, where there are foreign traces next to the corpses. Now, I am giving you this photo, you study it. These tracks are already heavily powdered with snow, perhaps they are a month old.
So it could be traces of the hikers?
- No, they are too clear. These are not traces of wounded people. This may be the traces of their murderers.
First photo of Doroshenko and Krivonischenko under the cedar tree. Photo provided by participant in the 1959 search Vladimir Askinadzi
In his memoirs, investigator Ivanov says that he saw scorched tree branches on the pass. Some eyewitnesses say that they saw melted snow. Is this so?
- I didn’t see anything like this. None of my friends did. And anyway, if there was an explosion that broke their ribs, he probably would have stripped the cedar from all its branches with its blow.
How many soldiers worked there?
- At the time when our group was searching, the soldier were five men. And at first there were a lot of them. In the early days, there was hope that the hikers would be found sooner.
And what about the scandal with the helicopter pilots who refused to transport the bodies of the last hikers found? Allegedly, they feared that these bodies were radioactive.
- Yes there was such a situation. To transport bodies according to the instructions, we needed a special packing, but we did not have it. And here for the first time Colonel Ortyukov took out a pistol, threatening the pilots. I did not know that he had a gun. But the pilots still refused to board the corpses without the packaging. They were transported the next day, when special bags were provided.
Were you tested for radiation?
- No. I learned about radiation only when the case was declassified. True, there was a Moscow radiologist with a dosimeter there on the pass. He took measurements, but we were not informed about the results.
What were the first theories for the missing hikers?
- Then all Sverdlovsk said that somewhere on the pass a rocket exploded. Colonel Ortyukov filled us with the same information. It is possible that he had this assignment. It was convenient for the authorities to let out a rumor about the missile version, because this version justified all the secrecy surrounding this case. It somehow calmed people and even relatives of the deceased. This version was taking the search away from the real truth. Well, if it is a rocket, it's all connected with state secrets. Therefore, we should not demand explanations from the authorities. But nobody believed the authorities then, everyone knew that officials are lying. And when we returned from the search in the institute, we were interrogated separately. My friend, also a student of UPI Moses Akselrod said, that most probably it was an avalanche. I asked him - would you be scared of an avalanche? He shook his head. So Dyatlov wouldn’t be scared as well.
Why did you decide that on there was a murder on the pass?
- I thought a lot about this and came to the conclusion that no spontaneous force could kill the nine healthy and fit guys. They could not just freeze in those conditions. Well, again, these inexplicable injuries. Don’t ask me, I don’t know who or why were they murdered. But this seems to me the only explanation of their death.