Hello, my loyal true crime readers! I am excited to present a guest post by Becky Kotnik. Becky lives in the tundra of Minneapolis with her husband and two children. She is a part-time Financial Controller and a full-time mom. Her writing has appeared in Crime Traveller and has been curated in Medium. In her free time, she likes to research, write, and puzzle. You can see more on her blog The Twig or follow her on Medium and Instagram.
Enjoy the guest post! ~ Christine
One of the more haunting and confusing unexplained stories is the mystery at Dyatlov Pass. It borders on the line between a true crime story and a natural phenomenon occurrence. What happened to the nine hikers who died under mysterious circumstances while camping in 1959? Certain aspects of the case are genuinely terrifying, even if no crime was committed. In the following, I concentrate on some of the most unusual circumstances of the case.
On the night of February 1, 1959, nine hikers died under mysterious circumstances while camping in the Ural Mountains. The hiking party included Yuri Doroshenko, Lyudmila Dubinina, Igor Dyatlov, Aleksander Kolevatov (guide), Zinaida Kolmogorova, Yuri Krivonischenko, Rustem Slobodin, Nikolay Thibeaux-Brignolle, and Semyon Zolotaryov. Most were students of a nearby university. All of them were Grade II hikers and skiers. Upon completion of the challenging expedition to Gora Otorten Mountain, they would receive the prestigious certification of Grade III Hikers. Grade III certification was the highest hiking achievement in the USSR and fueled their ambition to finish the ill-fated trek.
Ten days into the trip, on February 1, 1959, something truly petrifying happened to the nine hikers. After they had eaten and were getting prepared to sleep, but before they set up their cumbersome heating stove, something in the night disrupted them to the point that they felt compelled to cut themselves out of their tent. According to David Bressan’s article in Forbes, Mystery At Dyatlov Pass, “That evening, an unknown event caused the group to cut their way out of the tent and sent the shoeless and underdressed hikers into the freezing night, with temperatures below -22°F.” At this point, it is possible that they quickly separated into three groups as the wind, cold, and complete darkness would have been entirely disorienting. Not to mention the high level of fear that was compelling them to flee in the first place.
When rescuers first discovered the tent cut marks, they falsely assumed that the tent had been slashed open from the outside. This assumption propelled the theories of foul play. Later in the investigation, it was determined that the hikers had cut the tent from the inside. According to Nathan Chandler’s article The Dyatlov Pass Mystery: Were the Hikers Murdered?, “A line of footprints indicated that the nine people had walked away at normal speed, but some just wore just one shoe or were totally barefoot.” The position of footprints indicated the party walked through the snow at an average pace. These circumstances led investigators ultimately to believe that no other party was involved.
From there, Krivonishchenko and Doroshenko stopped down the hill nearer to the tree cover about 1.5 km from the tent. There, by a cedar tree, they built a campfire. They must have been too scared to return to the tent, or the wind was so strong that it was impossible to reclimb the hill.
Krivonischenko and Doroshenko’s remains were found by the cedar tree wearing only underwear. Krivonishchenko was face up with damage to his eyes and face that investigators suspected was made by a bird. There was also evidence he bit off a piece of his knuckle. Was this done to stay awake or to stifle a cry? Doroshenko’s hand was burnt. Did he try to warm his hand by the fire so much so that he burnt himself? The search party discovered evidence that someone attempted to climb a nearby tree, presumably to see the tent. Or perhaps they cut the branches down for the fire.
Map of the Area
Dyatlov, Kolmogorova, and Slobodin were found 300-630 meters from the cedar tree at varying distances and in poses that suggested they were attempting to hike back to camp. According to Donny Eichard’s book Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident, Rustem Slobodin’s “breath had melted the surrounding snow, suggesting that Rustik had been alive for some time after he fell. But what is most startling is the front of Rustik’s head, which is deeply discolored, as if he sustained a blunt force to the head.” All three were found wearing more clothing than Krisvonischenko and Doroshenko.
The most likely scenario is the clothing was taken off or cut off of Krisvonischenko and Doroshenko by the other party members to keep the rest of them warm. However, there have been documented cases of “paradoxical undressing” in fatal hypothermia. Individuals experiencing severe cases of hypothermia feel as if their skin is burning. To relieve this burning, they begin to undress in a feeble attempt to ease the pain.
Damaged Film From Slobodin’s Camera
The rest of the group was not found until May, 70 meters from the fire pit. Three of these hikers sustained blunt force trauma injuries. Two had fractured ribs, and Kolya’s skull was fractured. Kolevatov had minor injuries but none were fatal, and his cause of death was ruled hypothermia. The medical examiner referred to their injuries as violent and said that the hikers encountered a compelling force.
Furthermore, one person, Dubinina, was found with her tongue missing. The description of this in the autopsy, however, is so vague that it is hard to determine if it happened while she was alive or postmortem. It is certainly possible that part of her tongue could have been eaten by animals or microorganisms, but the lack of description does not help clear up the mystery. The coroner did list her stomach contents as containing 100 grams of coagulated blood, leaving many to speculate that her heart was pumping when the tongue was removed.
Searchers also found evidence of a makeshift den, meaning perhaps Kolevatov gathered sticks and clothing to lay on the ground in an effort to insulate the hikers from the freezing ground.
In his book, Eichard lays out a recreation of the night in question, based on the evidence and expert opinion, arguing that Kilevatov was the one who cut the clothing off Krivonishchenko and Doroshenko. Perhaps the least injured by their fall, Kolevatov attempted to get help for his injured friends and stumbled upon the fire. Unfortunately, Krivonishchenko and Doroshenko had already succumbed to hyperthermia, so he took their clothing to help the injured three. Unfortunately, his effort was in vain, as all would be dead before 3:00 am.
There is no shortage of theories on what happened to the Dyatlov Pass hikers. Natural phenomena theories include an avalanche, Kármán vortex street (a whirlpool-like wind phenomena that is inaudible but extremely disorienting to the human ear), ball lightning, or a land hurricane. The criminal or more sinister theories include: Mansi natives perpetrating an attack in retaliation for the decimation of sacred ground; KGB agents marching the hikers down the hill because they saw something they shouldn’t, leaving left them to die from the elements as they searched for their tent; some sort of altercation between group members that led to murder; or, perhaps, the group made enemies with local loggers on their journey in and were killed. I think that all of these theories are a terrifying possibility. This is one story that continues to puzzle and haunt readers.
Bressan, D. (2019, February 01). Mystery at Dyatlov Pass. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidbressan/2019/02/01/mystery-at-dyatlov-pass/#1ff611fd2741
Chandler, N. (2019, October 1). The Dyatlov Pass Mystery: Were the Hikers Murdered? Retrieved from https://history.howstuffworks.com/historical-events/dyatlov-pass.htm
“Dyatlov Pass Incident.” (March 3, 2020). Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyatlov_Pass_incident
Eichar, D. (2013). Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident. San Francisco, California: Chronicle Books. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Dead-Mountain-Untold-Dyatlov-Incident/dp/1452140030
Hadjiyska, T. “Dyatlov Pass.” (Updated May 15, 2019). Retrieved from https://dyatlovpass.com.
Unexplained Mysteries. (2020, February 6 and 13). The Dyatlov Pass Incident pt. 1 and 2 [Parcast]. Retrieved from https://www.parcast.com/unexplained
Wedin B, Vanggaard L, and Hirvonen J. (July 1979). “‘Paradoxical Undressing’ in Fatal Hypothermia.” Journal of Forensic Science,24(3), 543-53. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/541627