Shrouded in a veil of Soviet secrecy for decades, the Dyatlov Pass incident has withstood the test of time and imagination to become an almost legendary case of the unexplained. The information presented here today is spotty at best, extrapolated from coroners reports, inquests, witnesses and declassified Soviet documents with missing pages and evidence.
What we do know is that on the day of February 1st 1959, a group of seven men and two women began to hike their way through the frozen east shoulder pass of Kholat Syakhl, a peak known to the local Mansi people as the “Mountain of the dead”. All nine of the hikers were greatly experienced at undertaking difficult expedition, and were on their way to the summit of Otorten 10 kilometers away from where the incident occurred. Led by Igor Dyatlov for whom the pass is now named, this group of young men and women would never reach their destination and by the night of Feb 2nd they would all be dead.
As delays in expeditions such as this were exceedingly common at the time, it wasn’t until Feb 20th at the insistence of friends and family that a search and rescue group was formed by volunteers and eventually joined by the Soviet Army and police forces. On Feb 26th the rescue party found the remnants of the expedition’s camp on Kholat Syakhl, which included a tent that had apparently been cut open with a knife from the inside out.
Following a set of tracks leading down to the nearby woods, the rescuers found the charred remains of a fire beneath a large cedar tree and the first two bodies, both of which were dressed only in their undergarments and without any shoes. Backtracking, the rescuers were able to locate three more corpses between the cedar tree and the camp, all of whom had died in poses that suggested they were attempting to return to the tent. The last four bodies were finally found two months later in May, buried under meters of snowfall.
During an inquest that began immediately following the discovery of the first five bodies, a medical examination found no injuries that could have lead to their deaths, save for a small skull fracture on one of the victims that was ruled to be non-fatal. The official cause of death for all five was listed as hypothermia. However, the final four bodies discovered in May dramatically changed the established picture. One of the victims had suffered severe skull trauma, while two others had sustained massive damage to their chests similar to that of a car crash. Mysteriously, none of the bodies had any form of external wounds to explain the internal damage, almost as if they had all be internally damaged by extreme pressure. One of them was even found to be missing their tongue, which was never located.
Initial theories pointed the finger of blame towards the indigenous Mansi people, speculating that they had killed the expedition for encroaching upon their lands, but the scene of the incident and the bodies did not support this theory as only the footprints of the hikers were visible and the bodies showed no indications of hand to hand struggle. Further complicating the already strange circumstances behind the deaths was that most of the bodies were found with little to no clothing despite the fact that temperatures at the time were reportedly -20 to -30 C.
For whatever reason, some 6 to 8 hours after eating their final meal, something prompted the hikers to rip open their tent from the inside and to flee into the freezing temperatures outside while wearing little to no protective clothing. During this incident, several of them sustained unexplainable and fatal physical injuries. Perhaps most mysteriously of all, some of their clothes and bodies were found to be highly radioactive. It was also reported that most of their skin had turned a dark orange color and that their hair had grayed out, as if somehow aged rapidly over a short period of time.
It was also documented that another group of hikers some 50 kilometers away on another peak, had reported seeing strange orange orbs of light hovering over the area of the expeditions final camp on the night of their deaths. These same spheres were continually sighted by both the meteorology service and military for months to come. After a short period of hurried investigation, the inquest simply determined that the expedition had met its fate at the hands of an “Unknown compelling force”, and the entire incident was quickly buried in classified Soviet documents for years to come. Furthermore, the pass was closed off by the government for three years, barring anyone from returning to the area.
While many theories ranging from UFOs, to secret weapons tests and avalanches have attempted to explain the mysterious events of that night on Feb 2nd 1959, no single explanation has ever managed to satisfy the burden of proof. Whatever the case may be, the Dyatlov Pass incident will likely live on as one of the most fascinating unexplained moments of the 20th century.