- CASE FILES
The lack of eyewitnesses has inspired much speculation. Soviet investigators simply determined that "a compelling natural force" had caused the deaths. Access to the area was barred for skiers and other adventurers for three years after the incident. The chronology of the incident remains unclear because of the lack of survivors.
Aleksey Rakitin, author of the book "Dyatlov Pass", introduces the version that Semyon Zolotaryov, Aleksander Kolevatov and Yuri Krivonischenko were KGB agents on a mission to uncover a cell of CIA agents. They were to deliver radioactive samples and then take photographs of the Americans, but something went wrong and the CIA agents killed the group. It sound absurd now, but in a state of fear and paranoia this was the only way to spy on Soviet Union. Russians were not stupid either. They repeatedly fooled Western by radioactive-tainted material from places that had nothing to do with it. This brings us to so called theory of Western intelligence involvement. According to this theory two or more members of the Dyatlov group were hired by the KGB to deliver fake proof of radioactive tainted clothes. The rest of the group was probably unaware of the real purpose of their journey. Rakitin version is one which is widely spread now and is quite logical in terms of explanation of the most mysterious issues - radioactive clothes and usage of radiation detectors, gray foam on Doroshenko's face, absence of shoes and upper garments, at least 1 camera missing, etc.
In fact, it was some strange details about the skiers themselves that gave rise to a Cold War spy story scenario. Semyon “Aleksander” Zolotaryov*, a 37-year-old bachelor, and instructor at a different tour base, joined the group at the last minute. He was a veteran with years of combatant experience who fought for the NKVD, and bore an enigmatic tattoo, “DAERMMUAZUAYA”. Until this day, the word remains un-translated into any known language. Archives of the Ural Polytechnic Institute revealed a remarkable detail about Aleksander Kolevatov: before transferring to the Physics-Technical department at the UPI, he worked in Moscow as a laboratory assistant in a top-secret scientific facility, an unnamed “atomic” institute known as “P.O. Box No. 3394”. And Yuri Krivonischenko worked in a most notorious “P.O. Box*” – the plant “Mayak*” in Chelyabinsk-40, where a massive nuclear disaster, second in severity only to Chernobyl, occurred in 1957. Researcher Aleksey Rakitin is certain that this peculiar fellowship was not gathered by a whim of chance. Behind the biographies of Zolotaryov, Kolevatov, and Krivonischenko, the brooding shadow of the KGB is distinct. The true objective of the ski trek, unbeknownst to the other seven members, was to deliver radioactive samples to a group of agents of the CIA*, and to take pictures of the spies. The latter had been under the guise of ordinary hiking camping at the Mountain of the Dead. The meeting took place on February 1st, but something went wrong, and the Americans realized that the trio was playing a double game. A conflict ensued: a fight, torture and the brutal massacre of the entire group. Thrilling as it is, Rakitin’s story did not altogether impress the friends of the Dyatlovs. Vladislav Karelin regards it as a red herring. “They were tough guys. To scare the daylights out of them you would need something extraordinary, something astonishing”.
One private investigator, who spoke to former servicemen in the area, said the hikers could have been killed after being mistaken for escaped prisoners from local Gulag prison camps. Or alternatively, that they were killed in a ‘clean-up operation’ after a series of military exercises. Siberia at the time of the tragedy was still a land of Gulag. Many political prisoners were released in 1953-56, but criminals were still behind bars. Many small concentration camps were dispersed all over the region. The closest was Ivdellag situated just few miles from a site of a tragedy. Although it is true that there were no escapes around the time of the tragedy it doesn't mean that it never happened before. History knows many examples then prisoners would escape and go into hiding for years and even decades at a time. They could have easily missed death of Stalin in 1953 and subsequent amnesty to all political prisoners. Young hikers could be taken for unwanted witnesses and subsequently killed. If you take in consideration that many of the political prisoners came straight from the fronts of the World War II it is plausible that these people knew how to kill and were open to the idea. Furthermore Yuri Yudin discovered a piece of clothing that did not belong to any of the members of the group. This "obmotki" is a wide piece of clothing that are wrapped around feet or legs to keep them warm. They have distinct shape and made from a particular material. They were widely used among the soldiers in the 40's and later among the prisoners of Stalin's concentration camps. Nobody knows how it got here and nobody knows how it disappeared from the evidence room. But it did.
British author Keith McCloskey in his book "Mountain of the Dead" suggests that the students stumbled upon a military testing area and were either killed by Soviet soldiers protecting the area or were scared into fleeing by the sounds of nearby explosions.
One possible scenario is that of power struggle and illegal use of military equipment, helicopters in particular, by high ranking officers. This theory was put forward in September 2011 by Alexander Gulikov. During the time of the incident the 21st Communist Party Congress was taking place in Moscow, and the enhanced service mode was enforced by the Interior, the Navy, the KGB, etc. respective ministries. It was strictly prohibited for any military equipment to leave its location, any personnel training connected with the taking out of military hardware is cancelled, soldiers cannot go on leave, neither can officers go on leave, and commanders are on round-the-clock duty. In this environment military officers who were friendly with at least one of the top Moscow bosses had gone hunting in the valley of the Auspiya river. A group of Mansi beaters would act together to flush out wildlife and game towards the line of approaching hunters. The return from the hunt was planned for 1 February 1959. For their return they used a military helicopter. Gulikov speculates that the KGB were fully aware of what was happening and the plan was put into action under instructions from certain party bosses in Moscow in order to discredit another party boss. The hunt was filmed with a dated film. The camera was sealed. Clothes marked with radio isotopes were to help with detecting the location of the camera.
The operator had to leave the sealed camera wrapped in the radioactive clothes near the Dyatlov cache site. The appointed operator was Semyon Zolotaryov. In Gulikov’s opinion, this was not a man called Zolotaryov at all. We have to point out that teh camera found around Zolotaryov's neck was nto the same camera that he was showing off the the days before the accident. The reason for elimination of the whole group is that Zolotaryov was spotted taking the photos. The operation began with ensuring that the Dyatlov group appeared in the taiga by a certain date when the helicopter would be there. In Gulikov’s opinion, information about the date of the helicopter flight was brought to the 2nd Northern by a Mansi hunter. The group had started making good progress but after Yudin had left to return and the group had left the 2nd Northern, further movement was surprisingly slow. Zina Kolmogorova wrote in her diary for 30 January about ‘slowly getting up’ in the morning. The group resumed their journey only at about 10 am or even later. Trails were everywhere in the area asthe Mansi were preparing the hunt for the military officers. On 31 January the Dyatlov group left the ski track and moved up to the edge of the forest, moving away from the Auspiya and wading through virgin snow, then they returned back to the river valley. This maneuver was evidently going around something. The ‘something’ was the military officers. The supposition is that Zolotaryov was seen taking photographs as the helicopter was in the air. As the helicopter returned to Ivdel, Zolotaryov (and maybe one more person – possibly Dyatlov) quickly returned back to the group.
The group then packed everything and in great haste moved to another, less convenient place, making a camp at the foot of Kholat Syakhl in the hope they would not be found. Zolotaryov did not hide the camera with the isotope-marked clothes, his task was to leave those things near the cache site.
On their return, the officers realized that photos have been taken of their illegal use of the helicopter. They send trusted men back in the helicopter to find the group and do whatever it took to bring the cameras back. These men found the hikers’ camp on the mountain slope on 1 February, at some distance from the place where the group had been noticed earlier. The helicopter landed either at the Lozva river from where they went to the tent following the ski trail, or nearer, on the slope. Even though the instructions were to do without bloodshed, they probably met with resistance by the group, who did not understand what was happening, except for Zolotaryov and probably Dyatlov. The military men were well versed in unarmed combat and knew how to kill without leaving external marks. The military men could not have known that the operation involving the taking of photographs was under the control of the KGB. Zolotaryov would have felt assured of the strength of the organization behind him and did not want to give them the camera. Events probably got out of hand very quickly and when the military men saw that they had overdone things, their decision was to leave no one alive. Gulikov estimates that at about 6-7 am the next day (2 February), these men returned and, using their broad skis, they cleared up leaving no tracks in the soft snow. They found the dead bodies, but not all in one place. It was then that they searched out the bodies of Dyatlov and the other two, Krivonischenko and Doroshenko, under the cedar. They found Dubinina and Zolotaryov still alive and killed them by pressing on the carotid artery with the use of puttees, then threw them down the snow den. One of these puttees was later found near the cedar and another one in the gulley. The military officers and their men, along with the helicopter crew, felt they were in deep trouble. The issue of the illegal use of the helicopter was now about to be disclosed. On top of this, all the members of the Dyatlov group were dead. It was therefore in the interests of everybody concerned, the various services and ministries, to hush up the whole story. The situation with regard to the power struggle in Moscow was shifted to the back burner. The party leaders did not want the story to become known to the general public and, worst of all, to be leaked to the foreign press. The top military leaders wanted to find the camera but they didn’t know where it was. The KGB wanted to find the camera, but without the interference of the military. Gulikov felt that Lev Ivanov knew how the Dyatlov group had been eliminated and who had killed them. However, he was given a categorical order to close the case. He wrote a considered and bland conclusion. Tempalov’s Mansi version was discarded. The criminal version was completely excluded.
Since there were no prison breakouts from the local Ivdelsky corrective labor colony, the next in line suspects for the culprit were the indigenous Mansi people living in Khanty–Mansia, an autonomous district within Tyumen Region in Russia. At the second week of the investigation the prevalent theory was that the evil Mansi hunters who often camped in Mount Kholat Syakhl committed the crime on the night of the February 1. The information we have on the Dyatlov Case can be mostly attributed to the work of St. Petersburg investigator Evgeniy Vladimirovich Buyanov. What made native Mansi people strong candidates to be the perpetrator:
However, this contradiction was not of a considerable bother for the investigators, at least not in the first stage of the investigation. The temptation to "hang" the death of hikers on the local Mansi was too great. Several young Mansi hunters were were arrested in March 1959 and interrogated. It's hard to say what would have been the fate of these people, because the ability of the Soviet "machine of justice" to produce the necessary evidence is confirmed by the entire history of its existence, but the investigation in the second half of March made a surprising turn.
Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria) are very toxic, but they become less lethal when dried out. Conveniently, they grow most commonly under pine trees (because their spores travel exclusively on pine seeds), so the shaman would often hang them on lower branches of the pine they were growing under to dry out before taking them back to the village. As an alternative, he would put them in a sock and hang them over his fire to dry. I wonder where the Christmas socks came from.
Another way to remove the fatal toxins from the ‘shrooms was to feed them to reindeer, who would only get high from them — and then pee, with their digestive systems having filtered out most of the toxins, making their urine safe for humans to drink and get a safer high that way. Reindeer happen to love fly agarics and eat them whenever they can, so a good supply of magic pee was usually ready and waiting all winter. In fact, the reindeer like fly agarics so much that they would eat any snow where a human who had drank ‘shroom-laced urine had relieved himself, and thus the circle would continue.
When the shaman went out to gather the mushrooms, he would wear an red outfit with either white trim or white dots, in honor of the mushroom’s colors. And because at that time of year the whole region was usually covered in deep snow, he, like everyone, wore tall boots of reindeer skin that would by then be blackened from exposure. He’d gather the tree-dried fly agarics and some reindeer urine in a large sack, then return home to his yurt (the traditional form of housing for people of this region at that time), where some of the higher-ups of the village would have gathered to join in the solstice ceremony. Read more
Svetlana Oss in her book "Don't Go There" believes that Khanty hunters who had taken Agaric Fly to get themselves in a killing mood killed Rustem Slobodin with a dynamic head kick and inflicted the chest injuries by jumping or bouncing on the chests of Yuri Doroshenko, Lyuda Dubinina and Semyon Zolotaryov. Svetlana claims, they wanted to avoid shooting so as to foil investigators which is why they sanitized the tent area covering their footprints with snow and making the cuts themselves, thereafter forcing the hikers to discard clothing and footwear which is why Dyatlov's jacket and flashlight were found outside the tent. Svetlana interprets frame №17 from Thibeaux Brignolle camera as a hunter who was following the group and was surprised when they held quietly till the stalker briefly emerge and this photo was taken before the figure retreated back into the woods. This would also explain their choice to pitch the tent away from the treeline. Zolotaryov and Thibeaux were almost fully clothed and wearing some kind of footwear. Zolotaryov was found with a camera around his neck. We speculate that the two might have gone outside the tent to relief themselves and Zolotaryov took his camera because something interesting was going on. Read more about Valentin Yakimenko's study of the the damaged negatives found in Zolotaryov's camera. Related to this theory questions are if Khanty hunters stalk them and did the Shaman interpret the unusual lights in the night sky (if there were light) as permission from the spirits to uphold their tradition that to them the mountain was sacred and forbidden to strangers, especially to women, who may not gaze upon it? Indeed had some of the group cut slit holes so as to surveil where their stalkers might be? The case of the Khanty hunters made by Svetlana Oss ends with a possible clue regarding a rifle that somebody bought from a native who implied while drinking that he witnessed the incident.
The possibility is that the group may have ingested the mushrooms, either intentionally or unintentionally, and suffered the delirium and sweating with acute doses. This would account for what appears to be the bizarre behavior of the group on that final night.
This is not an avalanche prone area. Kholat Syakhl is not tall 1079 and it is certainly not very steep. Furthermore the opponents of this theory suggest that hikers diaries report a fairly thin snow cover. However these facts doesn't exclude the possibility of a small avalanche. A portion of the upper layer of snow could simply shift and role over the hikers as a slab of snow. This could damage the tent and create havoc among hikers who were suddenly trapped underneath several feet of snow. It would certainly explain why the tent was cut from inside. Further retreat would be necessary if the hikers were worried a second avalanche can strike again. According to the supporters of this theory Dyatlov group tried to make their way back to the Auspiya river and instead made a fatal mistake by descending into a valley of the Lozva river. After 4 weeks the snow that was rushed down the slope of the mountain was simply blown off by the strong winds that are common in the region. This would erase all signs of a natural disaster. However this theory has its gaps. From what we can tell from the footprints left by the group everyone seemed to descent with relative ease. It is highly unlikely that three people with broken ribs and flail chest would be transportable at all. And here we see several badly damaged men and a woman walk without problems or even help from any of the members of the group. Secondly these men and women were experienced and well trained. They knew that chances of freezing to death is more likely than getting killed by an avalanche. Although the removal of the damaged tent from an exposed mountain side was out of the question, they had to retrieve all their warm clothes and footwear.
And finally if you see on the pictures on February 1st on the left and February 26th (according to Vadim Brusnitsyn who is squatting on the slope with his back toward the camera) on the right you can see part of the hikers gear that kept its vertical position on the slope weeks after the tragedy. Furthermore the entrance of the tent is clearly elevated. Only the middle portion collapse probably due to hasty escape or weigh of snow simply accumulated there.
Occasionally some of the conspiracy theorists claim that UFO scared the group away. Although seemingly incredible this claim might have some base to it. About the same time Soviet armed forces did launch several rockets from Baykanur base. Although military claimed the rockets landed in the north Ural mountains, several geologists 70 km from the mountains saw some glowing and pulsating orbits flying in the direction of the Kholat Syakhl on a day of tragedy (evening of Febrauary 1st).
Lev Ivanov, a man who was in charge of the investigation at the Dyatlov Pass, lived a long life. In the early 1990's in an interview to a local journalist he made a statement that during his investigation he and E.P. Maslenikov both noticed that the pines in the forest were burned at the top. He also claims that A.P. Kirilenko, member of the Soviet Congress, along with his advisor A.F. Ashtokin forced Ivanov to take out any reference to the unknown flying objects or other strange phenomena. This included pictures of flying spheres drawn by the Mansi hunters and other testimonies. It is true that Soviet Union experienced a boom of interest on everything unknown. Skeptic might also add that Ivanov gave this interview to make some money. However we have to mention that Kirilenko became obsessed with UFO theme. Starting in the early 60's he filed several requests to gain access to the KGB archives. We don't know what was found in the documents, but it is undeniably strange that a political figure in USSR paid such interest in this subject. UFO was not investigated by the official science so it deemed as a pseudo- religious phenomena. Atheist Soviet Union obviously prohibited any interest in the subject, especially among members of the highest legislative body in the country.
Surprisingly, one of the most extraordinary and astonishing versions came from none other than Lev Ivanov himself. In 1990, the retired Prosecutor published an article, “The Enigma of the Fireballs”, where he admitted that in spring of 1959, under the pressure of A. P. Kirilenko, and of his deputy, A. F. Yeshtokin, he withdrew various key materials from the case that indicated the true cause of the accident: “fireballs” or a UFO*.
“When E. P. Maslennikov and I examined the scene in May, we found that some young pine trees at the edge of the forest had burn marks, but those marks did not have a concentric form or some other pattern. There was no epicenter. This once again confirmed that heated beams of a strong, but completely unknown, at least to us, energy, were directing their firepower toward specific objects (in this case, people), acting selectively.”
It is worth noting that later on, Kirilenko professed a lively interest in the UFO’s, and received memos about sightings of unidentified objects from the Chairman of the KGB, Andropov.
The celestial phenomena that accompanied the Incident almost convinced everybody that the skiers’ lives had been sacrificed to the new Soviet idol – the rocket. In the criminal case, there is a radiogram of particular interest, sent to the headquarters of the search party:
RADIOGRAM TO SULMAN
3/2-59 yr. — 18:30
[…] the main mystery of the tragedy remains the exit of the entire group out of the tent […]
The reason could be any extraordinary natural phenomenon, such as the flight of a meteorological rocket, OBSERVED ON THE 1st OF FEBRUARY IN IVDEL and by Karelin’s group [stop]
Tomorrow we will continue the search [end]
A vague evidence of the “rocket version” once managed to reach Vladimir Korotaev:
“Many years later, I talked to some scientists from Korolyov’s circle, the office of academician Rauschenbach, to be exact. It was hinted to me that, so they say, there were some tests being done.” All the requests sent to various launch sites by researchers, however, yielded no results: there had been no rocket launches in the Soviet Union from the 1st to the 2nd of February. Perhaps, the relics and stigmas of the rocket cult can be found in the Sverdlovsk taiga? Since the time of the search party operation, there were rumors of a secret training ground located somewhere near the site of the accident. Locals still relate legends of meetings with military patrols in the middle of the taiga, holes in the hillsides sealed with concrete, and the sound of a train that comes from under the ground in the woods.
Kizilov Gennadiy Ivanovich, a journalist from Yekaterinburg, is the first one and most avid advocates of the staged crime scene theory. He points out some major inconsistencies and conflicting testimony of witnesses and rescue team and says that this speaks of something much more sinister that sloppy investigation and that Dyatlov group have witnessed some secret trials or experiments that no one was supposed to see, and were deliberately liquidated by military forces. Kizilov concluded that the whole rescue operation was a farce and suggested that, a few days prior to the arrival of the search parties, "stage workers" were on the scene to prepare what was to be found by the rescuers. In order to avoid the disclosure of the secret facilities and to hide their crimes, the military and KGB removed the dead bodies from the real place of their death and brought them to ridge at 1079. Entries in the diaries of the group describing their route were then deliberately edited during the course of the investigation.
Some rescuers and commentators say the tent was pitched in exactly the right manner, but others say that, to pitch the tent on the slope of the mountain when the trees were so close by was not the mark of experienced climbers, because it would have been exposed to the strongest of the gales in that area. They say the tent was pitched elsewhere but was then moved to the slope by unknown persons who wanted to create confusion.
A 2008 conference at the Ural State Technical University, together with the Dyatlov Group Memorial Foundation, decided military testing was to blame. The Federal Security Service responded that all those involved in the case had long since died.
As part of technological theory there have been suggestions that an infrasound might have been responsible for sudden unpleasant feelings among the hikers. New research into rare weather phenomena has suggested that a 'perfect storm' could have struck the campers in the night, panicking them so much that they would have fled the tent, and fallen victim to the brutal cold before they came to their senses. Donnie Eichar, who spent five years researching the incident, and undertook the dangerous trek himself, believes that a wind phenomenon called a Karman vortex street could have produced a terrifying, powerful sound which is proven to induce irrational fear in humans. Due to the unique topography Dead Mountain (all mentions of Dead Mountain instead of Mountain of the Dead refer to Donnie Eichar's book), which is a perfect dome shape, the fierce winds that blow through the pass could have been warped as they struck the blunt surface. The wind, which was blowing in a straight line, would be twisted into a series of small but powerful tornadoes which would tear down either side of the pass. The tornadoes, spinning fast enough to tear the roofs off buildings, would have created a deafening noise, even if they missed the tents, as Eichar's theory suggests. But under certain circumstances they could also produce a more subtle and terrifying phenomenon known as infra-sound. The opposite of ultrasound, infra-sound is a type of vibration in the air which has a frequency so low it cannot be picked up by the human ear. But a succession of studies has shown that it can have marked effects on the human body, including loss of sleep, shortness of breath, and extreme dread. Eichar, backed by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S., believes that the combination of the effects on infra-sound, the deafening noise of tornadoes, and the claustrophobic, pitch black tent could unseat even the most steady-minded adventurer.
Though the science sounds incredible, Eichar believes it is the only logical explanation for the situation in which the bodies were found. Although Dead Mountain is so remote and inaccessible that the weather phenomenon cannot be directly observed there in the winter, it has been observed in similarly-shaped locations, including the rock of Gibraltar and an array of other peaks.
In the right conditions, a flow of wind can be directed in such a way that it creates a vortex. These vortices are created in sequences by the moving air, and travel away in a fan shape. With sufficiently high winds and the correct angles, these vortices of wind could form powerful tornadoes, with the potential to emit large amounts of infra-sound, as well as cause damage by themselves. Eichar's theory supposes that the Dyatlov hikers' tent was directly down wind from the peak of the mountain, and far enough away that the whirling winds themselves did not strike the tent. But they would have been close enough for the effects to be felt – and heard.
Infrasound, vibrations in the air which are too low for humans to hear, was first observed in the 1960s. The waves, defined as anything below human hearing range of 20 hertz (the upper range is around 20,000), can be made by man-made objects as well by natural phenomena. Vladimir Gavreau, a French scientists, first noticed the effect of infra-sound on his body thanks to a badly-designed fan. When his lab assistants began suffering nausea for no obvious reason, he discovered that the discomfort was cause by the motor of a large fan, which was emitting the sound waves. A 2003 study in the UK found that a fifth of people exposed to infrasound reported feeling anxious, scared or unable to breathe properly. Another theory holds that the waves are linked to ghost sightings. Eichar's hypothesis for the Dyatlov pass holds that the whirling tornadoes would have been able to produce infra-sound in sufficiently high levels to induce panic in the slumbering hikers, after which the Siberian weather did the rest.
These are only few of the theories. Many are more bizarre, strange and quiet frankly dumb ideas that circulate out there. Some blame the spirits others blame the paradoxical undressing that lead to hypothermia. All these theories ignore the fact that only two bodies showed signs of undressing after they left the tent. And it was the first two bodies found under the cedar. Their clothes were removed after they died. We can assume the bodies were beginning to show first signs of rigor mortis or stiffness after death. The clothes of dead victims were cut off and later found near the bodies in the den. This proves that people were aware of the danger of hypothermia and tried everything they could to save themselves. Why did they leave the tent with all the clothes and boots inside is still a mystery. Many theories surfaced in the past decades. Few of these, however, explain a wide range of physical injuries that the group experienced.
Unfortunately these were not the last victims of the Kholat Syakhl. From 1960-61 several airplane crashes took away lives of nine pilots and geologists who were sent here. For a time flights were totally canceled in the region. Among more recent victims of the mountain was a crash of Mi-8 in 2009. Pilots ignored long standing unofficial no- fly zone. Fortunately they survived the cash, but they couldn't explain why their helicopter went down so quickly and without any warning. Hikers today repeat the track of the Dyatlov group, but none of groups ever contain 9 people. In the early 2000's a group of 9 hikers under supervision of rescue crew repeated the same descent down the slope of Kholat Syakhl. Despite snow cover and night time none of the participants got any significant bruises or cuts. Those who observed the students did not report any difficulty in locating members on the mountain side. None of the group members were lost and vocal/ eye contact was constant between group members at all times. This only adds to the mystery of what really happened on Kholat Syakhl that day. The case of Dyatlov Pass deaths remains open.
Discovery Channel “documentary”, Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives makes a sensationalist hash out of a genuine historical mystery—the tragic deaths of nine hikers in the Ural mountains in February of 1959. Known as the “Dyatlov Pass incident”, this unsolved cold case has unusual aspects that give it something of an air of the inexplicable, leading to the rise of conspiracy theories and paranormal speculations. Notably, though the bodies of the hikers were eventually recovered by a search party, they were found scattered over a large area in states of partial undress, as though they had fled their tents in the night in a panic. Perhaps, some speculate, they were running from someone—or something? Cue X-Files theme.
I shouldn’t snark. It’s ghoulish to make hay from the untimely deaths of other people—in this case, people who have surviving loved ones today. But mystery-mongering television programs have rarely found a tragedy they weren’t willing to exploit—and distort.
Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives caps a marathon of Discovery monster hoaxes (both of their infamous and profitable mermaids hoaxes and last year’s Megalodon hoax are playing again earlier today). In this program, hosts Mike Libecki and Maria Klenokova set out to solve the Dyatlov Pass incident—or rather, to pretend on air that it had something to do with the Yeti.
For a detailed critique of the program’s claims, see this useful analysis over at Doubtful News. Short version: we don’t know what happened to those poor people, but it’s easy to posit completely plausible explanations which fit the facts. The party may well, for example, have fled from what they believed was an imminent avalanche.
Tragic, plausible scenarios are in ready supply. They’re just not good television.
You know what is good TV? Monsters. Huge, terrifying, tongue-eating monsters. (Much is made of the assertion that one hiker was missing part or all of her tongue — plausibly bitten during a fall, skeptics suggest, though her body was also found with other presumably post-mortem soft-tissue damage — almost inevitable after weeks of exposure in the forest.) Never mind that we have no particular reason to suppose that the Dyatlov Pass case involves Yetis in any respect (nor, for that matter, aliens, vampires, or griffins). Never mind that Yetis are probably best thought of as a modern myth, as Don Prothero and I discuss in our book Abominable Science! When it comes to the paranormal, media producers are delighted to untether themselves from all responsibility. For all the investigative posturing of programs like Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives, the producers will sacrifice anything — facts, plausibility, dignity, a respected television brand — in the pursuit of a ratings monster.
How can you construct a two-hour special about Yetis around a case that has nothing to do with monsters at all? How can such vivid tapestries be woven from such insubstantial stuff? Tabloid television’s traditional filler techniques are the pregnant question, the bald declaration, and the provocative non sequitur. Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives makes generous use of all three.
“When I found out one of the students was missing a tongue immediately I knew this was not caused by an avalanche. Something ripped out the tongue of this woman,” Libecki flatly declares near the beginning of the program. Turning to a Soviet-era Yeti expedition, the narrator asks ominously, “why do so many files related to the expedition remain classified?” I don’t know, because the show neither explains it nor demonstrates that any such files are classified at all. Citing one man’s decades-old recollection of having seen a military-style boot cover (a gaiter) in the vicinity of the disaster, the show leaps to the claim that “Somehow the military reached the crime scene before the search party. Yet there is no official record of any military presence in the area when the hikers died — begging the question, was the yeti expedition actually ended?” Begging the question indeed.
This show about Russian history declines to interview any Russian historians. Instead we’re treated to interviews with cryptid proponents Jeff Meldrum and Igor Burtsev. But this sort of cable mystery-mongering does cryptozoology few favors. Burtsev complains that the production came to him with a preconceived agenda:
I was interviewed by [Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives director] Neil Rawles too. I understood that he was making a program to fit the solution of the puzzle under the ready answer. And he tried to get from me the same answer about fault of the yeti in group’s death. For this he was shooting me for many times asking only one question: could be yeti a reason of the death? But I couldn’t agree and rejected that…
The central showpiece of the program is a black and white still photograph showing a dark, unidentified figure standing in the trees. It is introduced with stark onscreen text: “The following image is one of the last photos taken by the hikers. It is being shown on television for the first time.” This picture is presented as evidence that a Yeti was stalking the doomed party through the woods — their inhuman killer caught on film. What are we to make of this “extraordinary photographic evidence”?
To begin with, it doesn’t look much like a Yeti. With its short, rather thin arms, it looks a lot like a person in a coat. Its very lameness as Yeti evidence may be the best sign of its possible authenticity — authenticity as a photograph taken during the expedition, that is. (Probably a photograph of a member of the party.)
But the faked footage and invented on-air “scientists” of previous Discovery / Animal Planet hoax “documentaries” leave us little choice but to consider other, more cynical possibilities when viewing programs of this type on Discovery’s networks. Could the photo have been created for the production? How much of this “documentary” was simply made up from whole cloth? Libecki appears to be an actual person, at least — unlike “Dr. Paul Robertson” of Mermaids: The Body Found and Mermaids: The New Evidence, who was a fictional character played by Canadian game designer Dave Evans. (For more, see my 2013 Junior Skeptic story on mermaids inside Skeptic Vol. 18, No. 3.)
“No doubt it’s one hundred percent real,” Libecki says of the haunting photograph, explaining that it was included within the original, uncut negatives. Yet such is Discovery’s tattered credibility on such topics that we can’t take even the simplest facts for granted.
The rough cut I saw ends with the disclaimer, “This program contains elements of dramatization.” Yes — but how many? Reading this and thinking of Mermaids: The Body Found’s vague, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it disclaimer that “certain events in this film are fictional,” I can only reflect on the damage Discovery’s phenomenally successful hoaxes have done to their once trusted nonfiction brand — at least for me.
More to read:
Discovery’s Mountain of Mystery Mongering: The Mass Murdering Yeti - Benjamin Radford, Skeptical Inquirer
"Now we know snowmen exist" - a hoax that this theory was based on
An apocryphal 2013 horror film, Devil's Pass, ran roughshod over the facts and suggested a ghoulish teleportation experiment – and its elite guards – had put an end to the Dyatlov hikers. Although the movie is more or less hated throughout the Dyatlov community some frames fabricated for the movie had become so popular that people mistake them to be real. The frames in question »
This theory is presented by Nigel Evans himself in the discussion section of this site.
"The tent slits, hot spot near the tent and a camera on a makeshift tripod suggest that they were observing something in the sky. Given that the local Mansi people blamed the golden orbs for the tragedy and the repeated sightings of lights in the sky from reliable witnesses in the same period together with photos from the group's cameras possibly of aerial lights, it is plausible that the group fled from the tent due to an occurrence of ball lightning  getting very close to the tent and hovering there melting the snow beneath to create the hot spot. The group then hurried to the treeline 1500 meters away and lit a fire whilst they waited for the object to disappear. The theory then describes how the two deaths at the cedar were due a single electrocution event (due to normal lightning strike or ball lightning) creating burnt hair, bleeding head orifices, large burns, burnt clothing, pulmonary edema and tree damage and the subsequent four deaths in the ravine due to an explosion event near to the den (again due to a more powerful lightning strike or ball lightning). Although cold weather lightning is rare it is possible see . The theory suggests that the ravine lightning strike hit close to the den and vaporized a substantial quantity of stream water, snow and ice (positive polarity strikes -  can produce 300,000 amps and temperatures several times hotter than the surface of the sun, e.g. 30,000C) creating an explosion amplified by the confines of the ravine that threw the den and it's occupants 6 to 10 meters resulting in blunt force injuries similar to a car accident or barotrauma. The theory suggests that the three surviving members died in two groups, Rustem Slobodin was injured and urgently had to be returned to the tent assisted by Zinaida Kolmogorova. Due to snow drifts and high winds he collapsed on the journey and Zinaida Kolmogorova also further on due to the same plus exhaustion from the effort of assisting him. Igor Dyatlov remained with the ravine four as Lyudmila Dubinina and Semyon Zolotaryov although badly injured stayed alive for some time afterwards and Nikolay Thibeaux-Brignolle was unconscious. Igor Dyatlov may have stripped the two bodies at the cedar (turning the bodies) to provide more insulation for those still alive and possibly contributed some of his own. Some time later he decided to abandon his vigil and return to the tent but died being the only member of the group to have clear signs of hypothermia. Police officer Lev Ivanov, who led the official inquest in 1959, apparently favored the fireball theory."
Clark Wilkins in his book "A Compelling Unknown Force - The Dyatlov Pass Incident aka Six Hours to Live" promotes the theory that the hikers left the tent due to smoke from the stove. The problem with this theory is that they wouldn't need to go a mile down the hill to escape smoke in the tent. Even if they thought it could be a fire in the tent they wouldn’t need to go so far from it. They could easily put it down with plenty of snow around, and easily remedied by opening the tent up and ventilating. They certainly wouldn't completely abandon the tent without their shoes and coats. Another weakness of that theory is the consistency of reports by witnesses and investigators, that the stove was unassembled and still in its case.
Next video has nothing to do with Clark Wilkins. Captions 13:20-16:00 from the video below:
"Why would they leave the tent? I would argue that the only thing that could make them leave would have to be an immediate thread inside the tent. if something was outside, such as an animal or a UFO, then there would be no reason to cut the tent open. There were no signs of an avalanche, however, they could have excaped believing an avalanche was tumbling towards them. The problem with that theory is that the footprints showed them walking in a calm and orderly manner down the slope as opposed to running away in panic. So something caused them to panic inside the tent but once outside they calmed down and made a conscious decision to walk down the slope. Their external stove was a completely unique and homemade design as the leader of the group had built the stove himself. We know they had used the stove on the night of the incident before the incident took place as partially eaten pieces of fried ham and bacon were found inside the tent. I think that after dissassembling the stove and removing the exhaust pipe, the embers inside the stove were accidentally reignated. As the exhaust pipe had been removed, the smoke would have filled the tent in seconds. As they attempted to get control of the flame they cut a few holes at the top of the tent to vent the smoke. When that didn't work and it became increasingly difficult to breathe, the side of the tent was slashed open and they all escaped in a state of panic. The burn marks on their bodies and clothing could have been from the scolding hot metal stove. Several member sof the group were found with blood around their mouth and coughing up blood could be a symptom of a smoke inhalation. Some of them were intoxicated which could've effected their judgement as well as their sensibility to the cold."
There are no facts to support that there was cooked food or that anybody was intoxicated. The goup carried vodka but no empty bottles were found.
Russian scientists believe that the hikers came to the area where under certain circumstances the force of gravity can fluctuate. Petersburg physicist, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Institute of Engineering and holder of more than one hundred patents German Erchenko believes that the significantly decreased external pressure threw the hikers out from the tent.
Scientists have long studied thermodynamics, hydrodynamics, various aspects of the nature of gravity and weightlessness of bodies. He believes that Dyatlov group came to the area, which at the confluence of circumstances can have significantly decreased force of gravity. "It formed a corridor of a kind, in which Earth's gravity decreased. The hikers in the tent - sleeping or just getting ready, had time to undress. And then "unknown force" began to lift them up off the floor and drag them into the direction of the corridor", said the scientist. As the outside air pressure was significantly lower than inside the tent, "people began to push outwards", the scientist said. "The emerging hikers instantly pushed the tent from the inside, and since the pressure in their bodies still remained high, they received "unexplained" internal injuries - including broken bones.
"Some of the hikers died instantly, others remained alive for some time, but the bodies once outside the tent remain hovering in the air as though lying on a horizontal surface. In this position same force pulled them to the side", said the physicist. According to Erchenko's calculations, the phenomenon lasted only a few minutes. This period of time was enough to throw people in 1-1.5 kilometers distance. "They flew one by one or in groups from the tent, to be scatter on the slope and in the woods. When they were falling in the snow from a height, not being able to protect themselves, they received the injuries on their faces, which were disfigured", adds Erchenko.
The physicist says that if the hikers did not get out of the firmly fixed on the ground tent, perhaps they would not have died. In addition, according to the scientist, such events are not uncommon on the area. People, cattle and wild animals are dying in a similar manner with an alarming regularity. "For those who in the future will go visit Dyatlov Pass, it is worth bearing in mind that the corridor where the gravity to Earth is decreased can "open" again. Hunters in the area often go in the woods and the big question "Why is this happening in this place" needs yet to be surveyed and answered, summarize the specialist. ADFAVE.RU
The katabatic wind derives from the Greek word katabasis (κατάβασις), which means “descending”. This type of falling wind can appear when cold air over a glacier or a mountainous area starts to flow down a gradient. The phenomenon can be described as a ball rolling downhill by gravity, hence it is also labelled gravity wind – a wind that carries high-density air from a higher elevation down a slope. The definition of a katabatic wind is sometimes also referred to as a fall wind. Since cooled air has a higher density than the surrounding atmosphere, the katabatic wind can sometimes accelerate to the force of a hurricane. The strongest of these winds are usually found on drops surrounding mighty ice sheets, but can also occur over cooled mountain areas similar to the topography surrounding the Dyatlov pass. A similar landscape to the mountains south of Otorten can for example be found in Sweden, in the rolling terrain of Anaris. In February of 1978, dammed cooled air was here put in motion very quickly with devastating consequences for a group of nine skiers. The group of two women and seven men were then overtaken by wind speeds up to at least 20 m/s – an explosive scenario that erupted out of a rather calm and pleasant skiing tour. Only one of them survived - this after being found far away from a temporary and insufficient snow shelter made by the core group. A Swedish wind record for such wind is for example 81 m/s which was documented in 1992 at the Tarfala research station. In this case we are not even talking about the ice sheet over Antarctica, where such winds are normally considered the strongest.
A katabatic wind could initiate when cold air atop a higher point begins to flow downhill, displacing warmer air below. If the lower elevations are comparatively much warmer - the stronger the wind. In most places where the phenomenon appears, it usually does so at night when the temperature drops. An interesting note in the Dyatlov group diary, made a short period of time before the accident, described a relatively warm wind associated to a “jet-engine”. The wind was blowing from the valleys below under a blue sky. This could potentially have laid the foundation for the unfortunate events that unfolded between the 1st and 2nd of February in 1959.
What is important to realize regarding falling winds, is that these appear quickly as opposed to a storm. A storm would give you time to dress and secure or dismantle a tent properly. A tent that is not built for extreme winds, would rather swiftly tear to pieces if confronted with falling winds - this unless it was saved in seconds. In the case of the Dyatlov group the only survivable scenario would be to run out, conceal the tent and to wait out the ordeal elsewhere, later to regain the buried equipment. If the event would continue for a longer time or if the outside temperature is far too low, the consequence would be deadly without suitable shelters or helping hands. One fast way to save a tent from disappearing in the wind, would be too cover it with the adjacent snow masses – this in turn sheltered behind an already prepared snow wall/shelf. In fact, collapsing a tent to reduce the chances of wind damage, followed by a shielding of snow to hold the tent down, is expected in such situations. In the event of a katabatic wind, the Dyatlov team acted skillfully by shadowing the steps above. This could in fact explain why the tent was located with a protective snow cover and a flashlight - likely used as a beacon for relocating the position. Such scenario with subsequent outcomes, was presented by the Swedish-Russian Dyatlov Expedition of January/February 2019, as the causes to the incident in 1959. Read more →
In the photos taken by the rescue team, clear traces of snow affected by strong wind can be seen pointing towards the tent from the peak of Kholat Syakhl. The actual pattern demonstrates heavily wind swept snow, where vortexes have hollowed out scoop-shaped cavities. These are comparable to so called zastrugi or in Russian, заструги. Extremely high winds would furthermore make it hard to stand upright. Any possible ice sheet or other flying light objects, besides extremely low temperatures generated through the cooling effect, could theoretically create austere body trauma. However, the severe injuries found on the last four recovered bodies should in the case of a katabatic event, be tied to other circumstantial evidence - such as pressure from a collapsed snow shelter and natural decomposition due to three months of exposure in the prevailing environment. The same can be expected from traces of radioactivity in selected clothes, associated to earlier commitment in the industry by members in the group. Possible lights or spheres reported in the sky, cannot be associated with a katabatic wind. However and with regard to the sky, katabatic winds do indeed explain sudden plane crashes in the region, were falling winds are one of the most unpredictable and dangerous phenomena associated to ventures in the air.
Wolverine (lat. Gulo gulo) - a large representative of the mustelids subfamily. They love to eat, for which they got their name in Latin: translated Gulo - glutton. The weight of an adult individual ranges from 11 to 30 kg. They are kmown for their fierce and cruel temper. It is also the only beast that does not run away from danger, but attacks first. There are cases when a 30-pound beast has torn a bear, and there is a constant hunt for elks. And it's not just the character of the fighter. In addition to sharp claws, teeth and powerful jaws have a “secret weapon”. Like a skunk, if absolutely necessary, they can spray a rather stinky liquid - a discharge from special glands. Facts this theory is based on:
Methanol poisoning symptoms may include a decreased level of consciousness, poor coordination, vomiting, abdominal pain, and a specific smell on the breath. Decreased vision may start as early as twelve hours after exposure. Long term outcomes may include blindness and kidney failure. Toxicity and death may occur even after drinking a small amount. (Wikipedia)
Fans of this theory point out the following aspects of hikers behavior that might be explained with methanol poisoning:
The way methanol made its way into hikers systems has into three versions:
Just to exhaust the topic - in the 60s dry alcohol tablets existed, but even if you say that somebody could have slipped a tremendous amount of tablets in their food, the main ingredient in the dry alcohol is not alcohol at all but Hexamine (Wikipedia). We have to scratch this theory because the stove was found in its case, disassembled, and because there was no liquid food to slip the tablets into. The hikers were cutting loin that night. There wasn't anything warm, like tea or soup.
We reached out to Askinadzi with the question did they use any dry alcohol tablets at the time. His answer is:
"We never used dry alcohol, not to show off, but because it was difficult to get it, like everything else."
Well known pathologist involved with Dyatlov case, Eduard Tumanov, is pushing a theory that hikers took part in a fight, either between them or with outsiders. He is not partial to any of the two versions. His observations are purely based on the autopsy reports and mainly what is missing from them. Judging from the official autopsy records, Dyatlov group members have injuries sustained perhaps a day or two before the onset of death. We are talking abrasions and bruises, common for injuries from blunt objects: a fist, a branch, any solid blunt object. On the face and hands there are abrasions covered with a crust, bruises turning green. This indicates that the duration of the injury is greater than those minutes, hours that could have occurred before their deaths. And they could be sustained in a fight, or in some other events. Most likely, the group came into conflict with someone in the area of the pass.
Here is a closer look at the injuries on Krivonischenko, who was found together with Doroshenko near an extinct fire under cedar. The lower left half of the pants is missing to the level of the knee joint. The edges of the underpants fabric at the edges are uneven with the charring of the fabric. It turns out that the lower left half of the pants burned on the leg. Why and how could this happen?
Further multiple abrasions on the body. The site of sedimentation in the center of the frontal region. In the left temporal region there are two abrasions of red-brown color. The area from the right temple to the nape has an internal hemorrhage. And this suggests a strong blow or blows to the temporal and rear region of the head. But for some reason, the expert does not describe external damage to the right temporal region. And this is amazing. There should be a visible bruise.
Perhaps a few punches with a fist, or a hard blunt object. And here is another very interesting detail. The rear of the right hand in Krivonischenko, as the expert wrote, is swollen. In the area of the metacarpophalangeal joints (knuckles), the soft tissues are whitish-gray in color, the fingers are brown-violet. On the back of these fingers minor skin abrasions. This picture is likely to indicate a fight. Krivonischenko was beaten on the head and he hit his right fist. We read further: on the middle phalanx of the third finger, the defect of the epidermis, in shape and size coincides with that found in the oral cavity. It turns out that Krivonischenko bit off a piece of skin from his finger. Krivonischenko could have been beaten and tortured. Probably, he couldn't stand the pain so he bit off his skin. And here's another mystery. On the middle phalanx of the fourth, fifth fingers skin wound, tight to the touch. With charring. Again, it is not clear what kind of skin wound? An expert describes a burn? But if he described the burn, he would have to write what form he was and there are many more details. And here it is just like a wound, and with charring.
Tumanov's opinion is that all bodies should be exhumed and subjected to a new full autopsy for missed or omitted on purpose details. xHe is pointing at the following discrepancies and violations when the bodies were first protocoled: