In January 1959, nine Soviet college students went hiking through the Ural Mountains in Russia. Lead by 23-year-old Igor Alekseievich Dyatlov, the experienced group were on a journey to reach the peak of Otorten, a mountain in the Northern Urals. The nine hikers entered an unnamed pass on the expedition and were never seen alive again.
The deaths of the nine student hikers from the Ural Polytechnical Institute remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in of modern times. Diaries found at the abandoned campsite revealed a snowstorm hit and forced the group to lose direction. Instead of heading towards Otorten they deviated west and found themselves near the mountain known as Kholat Syakhl, which in English translates to “Dead Mountain”.
When Dyatlov and his crew failed to return on time search parties were sent out to find them. After two weeks, the group’s campsite was finally discovered on February 26, but there was no sign of the students. The campsite was in disarray and raised more questions than answers. For one, the group’s tent was abandoned and damaged, having been torn down from the inside. The group’s belongings also remained inside the tent, including their equipment and shoes. Multiple sets of footprints were found leading towards a nearby wooded area over a mile away. This was where the first bodies were discovered.
Investigators found the remains of a small fire and the bodies of Yuri Krivonischenko and Yuri Doroshenko. Both were shoeless and wearing only their underwear. Further into the woods, the bodies of Dyatlov, Zinaida Kolmogorova and Rustem Slobodin were found. All three were wearing little clothing and had died of hypothermia, like the first two bodies. It took two months until the final four hikers were found in a ravine, 75 metres into the woods. Unlike their compatriots who died of the cold, three had suffered fatal injuries. Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolles had a cracked skull and Lyudmila Dubinina and Semyon Zolotaryov had major chest fractures comparable to that of a car crash victim. Dubinina was also missing her tongue, eyes and part of her lips, while the final hiker, Alexander Kolevatov, had perished due to hyperthermia.
The investigation into the group’s deaths was shrouded in mystery with nobody able to understand what happened. Early on, the police believed the local Mansi people may have attacked the hikers, but this theory was quickly dispelled. Others claimed an avalanche may have wiped the group out, but there was no evidence to support that type of disaster occurring. Others with more imaginative minds blamed the Menk, the Russian equivalent to the yeti, the only creature with the strength to cause injuries to the three students found in the ravine. Another hypothesis suggested the fierce winds around the mountains created a Karman vortex street, which produces infrasound capable of inducing panic attacks in humans. The theory stated the sound caused the hikers physical and mental stress and they fled the tent in panic, got lost and never made it back.
Of all the theories touted, the one that’s given most credence is that the hikers died due to interfering with an army experiment. The bodies were found with radiation on them, and it’s known the military was conducting tests in the area. This is consistent with reports of glowing orbs being spotted in the sky during the period the hikers disappeared. Chief investigator Lev Ivanov discussed these bright flying spheres in an interview with a Kazakh newspaper in 1990, but at the time of the investigation says he was censored by the Government, with the deaths of the nine hikers said to have been caused by “a compelling natural force”.
Even today there is no clear explanation of what happened high up in the Russian mountains. The deaths of the nine students continues to baffle investigators, with the pass the incident took place is now known as the Dyatlov Pass to commemorate the unexplained deaths of those involved.