Interview with Victor Potyazhenko


Interview by Helga April 2, 2014 (

H - Helga (interviewer)      VVP - Victor Vasilyevich Potyazhenko       MI - Margarita Ivanovna Potyazhenko

Why me - because in the entire Urals I was the only helicopter pilot, and I served in a separate mixed aviation squadron reporting directly to the commander of the district.
General Gorlachenko flew a Yak-12. Arrived.
After a conversation with the local leadership, the general announced that the senior lieutenant remained in charge and made decisions himself. We lived in a hotel. There was no airport as such: a piece of land on which several aircraft stood: Yak-12, An-2 and one Mi-1. The airport is just a service room of several small rooms: the control room, the radio operator's room, the flight crew's room, the weather station, the airfield director's office. Passengers were not brought there!
We took off from Aramil at 9-10h, arrived at 12 o’clock, Gorlachenko was already flying... He spent an hour or two at the airport and flew away (back to Sverdlovsk). Together with him, both planes flew away, because "you can’t land on an airplane anywhere and they have nothing to do there".
And we went to get settled. A week later, another helicopter was sent to help me - from Kaunas, perhaps we were "on his way" and therefore it was sent to Ivdel. I explained to him the task: fly there and look. He flew there and said: "No, comrade lieutenant... I won’t be able to fly here in this conditions..."
It is possible that 68 is him.

About the search: Colonel Ortyukov was in command. He told me: let's fly like this: if the students went in a left circle, then let's fly towards them. I told him: "I just arrived from the Caucasus and did such work there, in the Caucasus, and I know that in winter you will not find ANYTHING - everything is covered with snow." It’s all the same - "let’s fly, let’s see." So we sat down with him, flew... We haven’t reached the place yet - we were convinced that there was only snow below and nothing was visible, but anyway - we’ll fly to Otorten area and see there, we’ll fly. The navigator plotted the route.

On the second day (after arriving in Ivdel?) we gave application to fly there, to the location. The weather was good, well, not particularly good, but you could fly... We are flying with him, Otryukov is standing on the stairs between the compartments, watching how I fly; we fly over the settlement behind Lozva, where Lozva begins... there are several houses marked on the map, from it we turned to fly to the Otorten area. Suevat was on the right, almost abeam. He tells me - take it to the left.

He told me - look, you see down there, our expedition is standing there, I say - where? He answered: now we will fly over, there they cut the forest for you so that you could land. I think, wow - landing here would be hard!
Okay, we flew over, I saw something that might be a camp, smoke was coming up.
He said - we need to land: we will talk, look and decide... I said that I would not land there and flew to the pass, where a big rock was visible. This is where I hovered, twisted - maybe somewhere better - no, the forest was everywhere! Well, here I landed, I look - one person climbs out of the forest, up: hello, hello! They were talking with Oryukov... The interlocutor was my age, somewhere around 25.
They stood and said - this will be your main base, you will fly here, fly away, take and bring cargo from here.
Everyone, go home! We took off and returned to Ivdel.

Next day we gave an application to fly there. Well - probably a day or two passed... When we flew - the investigator joined us and the prosecutor... I don’t know. There was definitely an investigator, I don’t know who the third one was. And two dogs big like lions! The cynologist barely pulled them out (……) And we brought a box, I don’t know what’s in there, but apparently it’s a radio station. Then returned.

He says - get ready for tomorrow, and now you can rest. Well - what should we do: we refueled the helicopter, covered it as expected and went to bed. In the morning - a truck came for us and took us to the airfield. Ortyukov: how did you sleep, are you hungry?

Yes, - and now, when we delivered the dogs there and this box, and two or three people with this box, and, I took off and, without any ulterior motive - I took off, along this mountain, and Ortyukov is again standing here on the ladder and I say to him: look - something that looks like a tent: the snow is white and poles are sticking out.
He: Oh! This might be it! But you can’t land there: a steep descent and a lot of snow. He said - today we will not land anywhere, we flew home.

- 2 -

So, in the morning he told me that while we were sleeping sleeping, he contacted this camp by radio station, and there they had fifteen people (I didn’t know). He told to go along our takeoff and check if there is a tent there.
They reported that they approached and it is clear that there are sticks and some rags are stretched. It can be seen that it is a tent, but he said that he ordered them not to disturb anything. He said, that the tent is torn in two places... that's what they told him.
Oryukov said: let's fly, maybe we'll land there... Again we flew to this place, got out. Those who were there began to say that they needed a stove, and the food was running out... I think, Lord, they just started looking and the food was already running out! Gordo was their assistant in the rear, so... I explained to him how to make a stove from a barrel. The stove was ready the next time I flew.
They cleared out the trees (for landing) in two days.

We went to the tent, the investigator, Ortyukov, and a third man went. The one who used to come running from below again (came from the camp). He came and said pointing - there the corpses lie, this way down. We approached the tent ...
They looked around - there are no traces, nothing... Then they looked at the tent, I also came closer, and I could see in, it hanged all open... I looked inside, and there were sleeping bags, jackets, felt boots.

Some kind of plate, not the usual type but like a cup, and there was a piece of sausage in it. And a flask laid and smelled of alcohol or vodka. The investigator said - well, if there were convicts, they would have taken all this. These are not zeks!
Well, let's go and see how they ran. And there the descent is steep, like 60 degrees, in a word, steep.

We look at the photo: this year's winter)
Here, it went down from this tent. Here is the mountain. The mountain itself rises and here it is smooth, like asphalt: here, on the descent, there are stones and, in separate areas large as our room - the snow lies and so - to the very bottom, and there the rise of this ravine begins again and further there is the forest. The investigator looks at these areas of snow and counts (tracks): one or two... that's all - nine people.
The bodies lay on the slope. To the ravine! First body was in 150-200 meters in my opinion. Here (in the panorama photo) the first person was lying here... Then, you can draw a line like this - the three of them all lay the same way. Well, I looked: the first, the second, the third. That's right: three people. Only 500-600 meters, all three lay like that, and then another 200 meters there was no one, and then the snow was compacted and fir trees stick out and the earth goes up, the ravine starts to rise.
To the spruce trees - about the same number more! According to the picture: if there are seven hundred meters to this forest, then... for 150-200 one, then the second.
To the ravine will remain 300 meters
If there was a girl or not - I don’t remember, I’m afraid to lie, I don’t remember!
I said: "Well, let's drag it to the helicopter!" They were first dragged from below to the place where the helicopter was sitting, and then already - I flew in... We flew away and they began to lift them, because there is a long story there - to lift them there and lift and they still have weight. It is necessary three or four (I say): "You drag them to the rock, today we will not have time to pick them up, but we will pick them up tomorrow." Ortyukov gave them a task, but it was cold there and he said: "Well, there’s nothing to do here, we flew home!" Ok with us, gathered, launched and ...
They gathered, dragged all three of them, and when we flew in again, they were already all together... Here were lying, and then I brought the barrel stove - I tried to land where they had cut down the forest.
Where was the landing site?
MI: And then it was not filmed? Grigoriev did not take pictures? Grigoriev, right? The journalist?

And so, when they began to carry these corpses, I say let me unload this barrel and products for now and fly.
About landing in the well (the hole cut in the forest) - I landed there once, then two more... I landed three times in total.

The next time - maybe a week later - I brought two more pilots with me. They flew in on a second helicopter, and my pilots and I flew to this site to teach them to land in such a well. This is during the search, while there is nothing to do. Well, so we flew there, well, what is there to stand? I landed one pilot, let's go - down into this well - landed! I landed another: they took off, landed - that's it! And, I say - go down and fly home!

The photo: A soldier peeps out of the helicopter door. Is that Ortyukov? No, not Ortyukov. Well, this is our helicopter...
About the photo with the two helicopters: But here with the №68 is not me, it couldn't be me. It's not on the mountain... can I be in Ivdel airport?
MI: Babenko was, I remember. Flew.

- 3 -

VVP: I don’t know, but even if we flew in together, I never had such a number.
Maybe it's from Kaunas? But I would never fly there from Kaunas!
MI: But no civilians flew there! One Mi-1 was for search.
VVP: I didn’t fly anywhere else, only here, only I flew to this place and that’s it. And while I was there from February to May, no one did any work there, where I flew.
I flew there only there and back: before that, the civil aviation may have taken a group. It's possible.

H: You must have flown this route while they were transporting groups.
VVP: No, when I flew, they could not have been on that day! There were no helicopters.
H: Couldn't it be that they flew in when you just flew away? Or did he leave at 9-00, and you arrived at the airport at 10-00?
VVP: No, no, no, it wasn't! Well, I would know, they would tell me that there is a helicopter there! He could have been before me. I think about the group that was staying in the forest: someone brought them there! I just thought now: well, where did this group come from?
MI: I heard that a group went there on foot.
H: Groups landed navigator Karpushin and pilot Pustobaev.
MI: Could it be from another district? I don't know them.
About Ivdel airport: pilots stationed there: they landed on lakes, served geologists. If necessary, basically the Yak flew. This Patrushev. There, the prisoners were often crippled and there was an ambulance flight - then they were taken to the hospital in Ivdel. Therefore, I only know that one Aleksey Tolstoy flew there, one Mi-1
H: Gladyrev could also fly there.
VVP: How could he fly? There were no helicopters!
I basically drove soldiers: a sheepskin coat - felt boots - a hat. Dirty…

H: Don't remember Spitsyn, he's the commander of 123 Separate mixed aviation squadron? Do you remember him?
МИ: No!

VVP: When I first arrived there was one civil Mi4. I ask: what is this Mi4 doing here. They said he flies in the direction of Ivdel-Ob. They were supposed to lay a road there, so they take geologists there, take samples, so he flies in this direction.
I say, why can't he fly there? Because it costs a lot of money!
I don't charge. He had said, I would fly with pleasure, but the one who orders does not have enough money. And that's all: he flew away and didn't even fly back.
There was a Mi1, fluttered there several times. But he's small.

H: And what did you say about Patrushev, was he popular in Ivdel?
MI: No, but on TV they portrayed him as a close friend of Dyatlov.
H: Well, that's questionable. But just like a pilot, how was he?
MI: As a pilot - well, that's what ... Vitya did not take out the corpses from Ivdel to Sverdlovsk. Maybe he drove to Sverdlovsk?
H: But you remember him from Ivdel as an airport worker.
MI: So what, what is an airport worker?! I don't remember anyone.
H: Why is there a radio operator at all if there is a dispatcher?
MI: But how, we received on the radio the weather forecast from all regions?!
H: Is the dispatcher commanding the pilots? Does he tell you or does he speak (to the pilots) himself?
MI: This is the dispatcher, he talks with the crews. I was only working the radio station.
VVP: She received a radiogram, passed it on to meteorologists: in such and such an area, such and such weather. Or she received a radiogram on a flight such and such. She - let's say to the dispatcher, from there it is requested to fly there. She couldn't make a decision. And he, the dispatcher, already knows. The manager can do anything. She only sent a telegram, and he reads the telegram and gives an answer: I forbid (for example!)
H: But here you are a pilot, you fly and ...
VVP: Only to the dispatcher, only! There is no connection with her. The radio operator and I don't even have a radio station. We have VHF, and they are on medium!
MI: Call sign? Border? We did not work on this, we had numbers. We worked on the key, not by voice. I had a digital one and I worked only on the key. We did not accept voice calls.
MI:: I don't remember.
MI: Numbers, there were numbers. The weather report arrived. I remember from Khanty-Mansiysk, where the radio operator did not work like that, but... like this.
MI: In general, I only found out... Once, I came, and at our work there were a lot of people who came to look for. And once I heard that there were three corpses and that their poses were all the same: as if they were running, but their hands, everyone, were as if raised.
VVP: That's it... hands are kind of spread out.
H: But now there are all sorts of photos, how they were found, and photos from the morgue.

- 4 -

VVP: I know that they were so frozen that ... I helped load them and broke someone's heel. I had a heel in my hands! It hanged inside the sock and I could not stick it back.
H: Maybe there was a piece of ice in a sock?
VVP: Well no! I feel like the heel has just fallen off. Here's a bone, here's a foot, right? It broke off like this and.. the hook became like this... and hung on a sock or stocking like that... I think - you glue it somehow and..
It's all inside the sock, but I feel it's the body that broke off. No water, nothing. Because even the configuration of the sock has changed. After that I stopped helping. I was afraid I might break someone's arm off. It's all important for the autopsy.
МИ: It was very cold there. Freezing!

Next - look at the photo of the crew. Helicopter №14 Mihail Novikov - flight navigator, more precisely - navigator pilot. Flight engineer Nikolay Nemyko. Another pilot, navigator… it's just that they changed, Valerian Ovchinikov.
Then me and Oryukov.
H: During your long flying life, you have probably been to rescue work more than once and in general. How normal is it that the chief of staff, lieutenant general, flies on such searches?

VVP: Our squadron was subordinate to the district commander. Well - like his garage. And he only commands: Petrov - fly there, Ivanov - fly here.
H: So why did the general himself fly?
VVP: When he came, I thought that it was like a day off or a holiday for us - there must be some kind of emergency: the district is large and something is always happening somewhere. The crew on duty is always on alert. And so, when we took off, I thought: Well, if the chief of staff is flying! This is such an emergency. He doesn’t fly at all, if he flies, then ... It happens, of course, that he flies there, in those areas, well, where? We flew somewhere on aviation issues: east-west, south. And to the north there is nothing on aviation issues - neither an airfield, nor an aviation training ground.
I thought what happened there? Maybe someone did something from the aviation units and ran away there - that the chief of staff is flying?
And when we landed in Ivdel and looked, there were a hundred people of all kinds walking around: some in uniform, some without shoulder straps - but not in aviation uniform, I thought that there is some kind of emergency here. But no one reports to me My case: I came it - landed, stand by...
So he flew in and explained what happened. That's when I learned what we were about to do. And while I was waiting, I presumed that there were labor camps everywhere and the convicts had fled and committed a murder somewhere. I thought - we will either carry someone there or from there.
But it turned out quite differently!
H: I ask about March 3 and Grigoriev's record.
VVP: Don't know! Only we could carry, no one else.
MI: You didn’t bring it, but this one came... PO-2.
VVP: No, I would have known the application would have been from us. As soon as someone flies everyone knows where, everyone is connected. To someone there?!
MI: I can say why did they begin to search. A woman told me that a crowd of parents and students of the polytechnic institute had gathered in front of the KGB building in Sverdlovsk.
H: Was Ivdel generally quiet? How was it at the airport?
MI: On our end? There he (points to VVP) flew in and nothing more.

H: But after all, civilians flew in to search, and there were many of them.
VVP: I don’t know, I had such good relations with the dispatcher Paramonov...
MI: I don't know, I took the weather.
H: And Rahmonov, you had someone with this name?
MI: This was an old man.
VVP: Meteorologist? Have you met him?
I met him five years later in Undala, a city between Kazan and Sverdlovsk. We talked..
MI: I left there on April 24-25.
VVP: I flew without you in May?
MI: Without me.
I know because I received this telegram before leaving. Before I was transferred to Uktus, which is why I remember the Radiogram that the rocket landed on Otorten.
H: Landed? I understand that I could fall, but landed?!
MI: No landed! When I gave the radiogram to Sverdlovsk, they answered me: there were no missile launches in that area.
This is exactly what I am saying. Gorlachenko was present, and this one was not Paramonov, but another. I later met him in Sverdlovsk, at Uralmash. He tells me, they took me again (as a pilot), I go again!

VVP: (expressing great doubt) Well I do not know! I don't know, I don't know. I have already heard so many ideas of all sorts here now, in this flat...

130 minutes

From Potyazhenko's archive

You can see Potyazhenko's landing site and Syunikaev's unit 6602 camp on these maps. But take a closer look. Potyazhenko drew his landing site on a rock on the steep slope of Otorten. Semiletov and Bobrikov based their maps on the one Potyazhenko drew and gave Kuntsevich, but they moved Potyazhenko's landing site on the Lunthusaptur lake, the first place where a helicopter could have landed south of Otorten. The route on the last (simplified, no contour lines) map is drawn by Potyazhenko himself in 2014 during an interview by Irina. The route is clearly not ending on Otorten but the Dyatlov Pass. In that same interview Irina says that she had given up showing Potyazhenko other maps he can't see well. His sight has not gotten any better in four years when he circled in 2018 where he landed in 1959. Also he had taken picture of the rock where he landed and that is the rock with the monument plaque on the Dyatlov Pass. In another interview by Olga Potyazhenko clearly says that he "landed near a rock on the saddle between Auspiya and Lozva". When Potyazenko was shown a modern photo of Kholat Syakhl and the outlier rock: "here I was sitting (landed near the rock), there is a descent (points south to the Auspiya valley), in this place there was the soldier's camp..." Where did he see the tent of the Dyatlov group, he points to the Kholat Syakhl slope, "700 meters from the rock".


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