The Mystery of Dyatlov Pass by Svetlana Oss

Don't Go There: The Mystery of Dyatlov Pass by Svetlana Oss
Detailing the Dyatlov Pass incident.

Here we have an account of the fascinating Dyatlov Pass incident of February 1959, which came to light for many outside of Russia with the advent of the internet.

We discovered the mysterious, and rather disturbing, incident back in 2008 and became rather fascinated with it – what happened to nine young skiers on the Kholat Syakhl mountain in Ural, Russia?

Having been on a normal hiking trip, they all died in bizarre circumstances between the 1st and 2nd February. On 26th February, a search and rescue team found the remains of their camp – an abandoned tent that the occupants had slashed their way out of.

Their bodies were eventually found nearby, some severely injured, others with traces of radiation, and one with missing body parts. Quite what happened remains a mystery, but in recent years there have been various investigations to solve various aspects of the case.

Don’t Go There: The Mystery of Dyatlov Pass

Dyatlov Pass incident - site of the abandoned tent
The abandoned tent, with search and rescue members Yuri Koptelov and Yladislav Karelin on February 27th, 1959.

Russian journalist Svetlana Oss’ account was published in December 2015 and is one of several books available about the incident.

She provides a detailed account with keen insights (she’d published a news piece in the Russian press in 2008 that helped bring the story to the attention of the Western press).

It’s a strong piece of investigative journalism. This one is an Amazon printed book, though, so the quality is a bit poor, but it doesn’t detract from the work involved.

Not surprisingly, many people have latched onto the Dyatlov Pass incident and spread wild rumours of alien encounters, or some illegal Russian testing involving nuclear power.

We thoroughly researched the case a decade ago, to the point we considered writing a book about it, and some elements (such as the radiation) are easily explained. But other parts of this story are deeply creepy and peculiar.

What’s clear is this – after their normal holiday hiking through the mountainous region of Ural, one freezing early morning the hikers cut their way out of their tent from the inside.

After this, footprints in the snow confirmed they walked (rather than sprinted in a panic – key to the investigation) down to a nearby forested area. There, they lit a fire.

Their bodies were eventually discovered around this area. Some were in various states of undress (such as in their underwear, in what would have been freezing conditions – as six of them died of hypothermia, this could have been a case of paradoxical undressing) and frozen solid.

However, three others were only found in May 1959 a short distance from fire. They had fatal injuries – major skull damage and a crushed chest. One woman was missing her tongue.

The quest since 1959 has been to discover what fate befell this group of young people who were (bar one) in their early 20s and having a great time. The mystery is such on April 12, 2018 the remains of one of the hikers was exhumed for further tests.

With such confusion surrounding the case, can anyone categorically claim to know what happened? No. But plenty of theories abound.

The Evidence

Due to the vagaries involved, conspiracy theories have festered. Some of the online comments we’ve read come from individuals insistent it was definitely aliens. We believe the above video helps to clarify the incident to a greater extent.

Full credit to the excellent YouTube channel LEMMiNO for a well reasoned, logical, and hyperbole-free piece of work. The narrator’s notions certainly sound reasonable, but what’s remarkable about the Dyatlov Pass incident is the number of theories that can explain it to a sound degree.

To add to the debate, there are theories such as the group ate poisonous mushrooms and began behaving erratically. Others suggest they thought an avalanche was approaching (this doesn’t explain the relatively calm walk they took down the mountain). Some think they may have been attacked by local people known as Mansi.

For the record, Oss subscribes to the latter. She believes what we’re dealing with here is a murder case – the hikers were attacked and held at gunpoint (and she lays forth a convincing argument to support this) and led away from the area.

There was a scuffle (which would explain the scars on some of the hiker’s knuckles), the Mansi covered their tracks and the tent to make the incident look like a natural occurrence, and the hikers were left to fend for themselves at the nearby forested area.

This is completely different to LEMMiNO’s perfectly reasonable assessment and various other possibilities. Consequently, whilst making for fascinating reading, it does mean this tragedy is unlikely to ever be fully explained.

All we know for sure is nine young hikers died one freezing cold February morning in 1959, far from home and with no way to communicate their fate to the wider world.

14 comments

  1. Svetlana Oss also translated the Official Post Mortem into English. When you read it, and match it to what She believes happened, its clear that they were murdered but by whom? There are other indigenous peoples in the area not just the Mansi. Plus the KGB were present during the search for the Hikers and Guarded the morgue where the bodies were taken. Why?

    Liked by 1 person

      • @Mr. Wapojif, I agree re: your opinion about the Lemmino theory. The idea that the tent was filled with smoke for some reason and was therefore cut open and hastily abandoned, sounds somewhat reasonable at first, but doesn’t stack up at all upon further inspection. There’s no reason to assume that the tent became filled with smoke in the first place, since the stove was found disassembled. But even if the tent was full of smoke at one point, it doesn’t explain that it was abandoned while many potentially life saving garments were left behind, and that the members of the expedition went almost two kilometers away from the tent. Even if they moved so far away from the tent in order to find some kind of temporary shelter in the forested area, it would’ve been much smarter to air the tent and then grab as many garments and useful items as possible before moving towards the trees. Also, those who argue that there are no signs of the involvement of persons who weren’t expedition members, dismiss rather hastily all those injuries which are somewhat hard to explain by mere accidents.

        I really like Svetlana Oss’s ideas. She remains logical and realistic and has her finger on the one point which is truly hard to explain: why would a group of experiended outdoor afficionados abandon the tent whithout being adequately dressed and without taking along the most vital garments and other life saving items? This can only be explained by either sheer panic and confusion – or an external threat. The fact that the evacuation was apparently not executed in a rushed but rather in a fairly orderly fashion seems to exclude a hasty panic reaction. Therefore it’s reasonable to conclude that there must’ve been an external threat which left them no choice but to leave everything behind and go away from the tent. And this external threat might’ve come from people who weren’t part of the expedition. Since we know that a Mansi population was in that area, it’s not so far fetched to look into that direction, even if the Mansi were generally known to be non-violent and peaceful. But it’s perfectly possible that a (maybe religious) conflict developed which induced the Mansi to threaten the students. I like this narrative better than the idea that the students saw some secret military tests which they shouldn’t have seen and were subsequently eliminated. In this case the expedition would’ve probably just disappeared without a trace.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Excellent comment, thank you! And I fully agree with everything you wrote there. Given just how strange the situation the search and rescue team found was, something major must have happened. And a bit of smoke really isn’t enough to do that.

          There was a daft horror film about the incident a few years back, but it’s certainly calling out for a proper full on documentary I think. Hopefully a director somewhere will take it on to challenge some of the more stupid theories doing the rounds. Some people are utterly convinced it was aliens.

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          • Thanks for your feedback,and I agree with you: smoke or other panic inducing incidents – like fear of avalanches or the infrasound theory – don’t match up well with a fairly orderly single file retreat downwards and towards the tree line. If we can trust this interpretion of the found traces (which is of course another can of worms entirely) it does make sense to look into scenarios where persons not belonging to the expedition were involved – especially since there is photographic evidence for the presence of at least one other person. And I’m not talking about the Abominable Snowman having been involved☺
            Question: why would the official investigation eventually dismiss the idea that the Mansi may have been involved, although this possibility has been discussed at first? Was this idea discarded for political reasons, or did the investigators really conclude that the involvement of the Mansi or other indigenous people was highly unlikely?

            This mystery is very fascinating, and it’s very difficult to construct a plausible scenario which explains everything in a satisfying manner. A few inexplicable pieces of the puzzle always remain…

            Liked by 1 person

            • Yes, those photos really are priceless in documenting the site. And I definitely didn’t see any alien spacecraft or abominable snowmen in them.

              But you’re right on the Mansi point. I remember reading a website about this issue around 2010 (I spoke with its owner, at that time he felt the incident was likely caused by poisonous mushrooms) and it said investigators eventually got bored of the case and sort of dismissed it. The Cold War was on and they had other things to do etc.

              Some conspiracy theorists have taken that and implied it was a coverup for nuclear tests. So as a story it really is ideal for those sorts.

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              • Well, the “intoxicated-by-shrooms” theory is interesting, but it has the same weakness as the “fear-of-avalange” theory or the “addled-by-infrasound” narrative: it’s not compatible with the picture of a fairly orderly retreat from the tent. To me it looks like the only totally mystifying and apparently irrational action was, to leave the tent and all potentially life-saving garments and items behind while being very insufficiently dressed for the occasion. But if this action was forced upon the students by a person or a group of people whom they met and confronted at the location of the tent, then there is no reason to believe that the judgement of some expedition members was impaired before the onset of the inevitable hypothermia symptoms.
                So, why would the official investigation come to a fairly sudden and premature end with the somewhat lame and unsatisfying conclusion that the tragedy was most likely a result of the fatal interplay between natural forces and bad decision making by some expedition members? It’s of course possible that at the time the Soviets had more important things on their mind than conducting a tedious investigation of the local indigenous population with whom they might’ve previously reached a state of co-existence. A criminal investigation and subsequent prosecution could’ve endangered their interests in that area, and the Soviet treatment of their indigenous populations might’ve come into a most inconvenient spotlight.
                It’s also possible that investigating the Mansi angle in debth would’ve been an admission that the students were most likely victims of a crime. Such an admission could’ve generated a string of unwelcome questions. Many criminal investigations have the nasty consequence of uncovering certain inconvenient facts as a by-product so to speak, and there may always occur a certain amount of collateral damage. At the time it may have seemed to be much more convenient to bury and mourn the students as quickly as possible and classify them as victims of ultimately uncontrollable natural forces.
                ATM I’m trying to work through the English version of the website “dyatlovpass.com” in order to get a clearer picture. It has collected a wealth of material and covers many theories, although all solutions which involve aliens, yetis and other paranormal/supernatural happenings are given short thrift – rightfully so IMO. So far I really cannot discover anything which hints into such a direction. The glowing spheres in the sky which have been observed by many independent eyewitnesses at the time around the Dyatlov Pass incident are somewhat strange but they can be explained without the assumption of alien origins 😉

                Liked by 1 person

                • Having checked, the Russian government has reopened the investigation into this back in February. So, it’ll be interesting to see what they come up with this time. At least it should – hopefully – quell some of the more insane theories going on out there.

                  Liked by 1 person

                • I looked into this, and I don’t expect much from the reopened investigation. It has already been announced that they will only consider natural causes . This means they will totally disregard the testimonies of the original autopsy reports and the opinions of several modern forensic experts who said that many of the injuries strongly hint at a crime and that there must’ve been fights with one or more persons. Therefore we will probably get something very much along the lines of Lemmino’s stove theory 😦
                  But the renewed activities have already produced one potentially huge surprise: the alleged body of Semen Zolontaryov has been exhumed – and after the injuries have been compared with the notes of the original autopsy, some notable discrepancies have been discovered. And the result of a preliminary gene test is, that the guy from the grave may not be related to the living relatives of Zolontaryov! If these findings can be confirmed, there are several possibilities: the simplest conclusion is, that the exhumed body is not Zolontaryov’s body but some one else’s with similar but not exactly matching injuries. And the big questions are: where is Zolontaryov’s body, who is the exhumed guy, how did he get his injuries and when exactly did the switch happen?? A slightly more exotic possibility is, that the guy who has been introduced to the exhibition members as Semen Zolontaryov was really someone else and therefore the gene test doesn’t show a genetic kinship with the living relatives. But in this case we have to assume that the discrepancies between the injuries of the exhumed body and the autopsy report are a result of a sloppily performed original autopsy. Unfortunately that would not be exactly shocking – but it would mean that we can’t really trust any of the original autopsy reports. Ideally all bodies need to be exhumed and re-examined by forensic experts. It’s clearly a case for Kathy Reichs’s bone sleuth Tempe Brennan ☺. But isn’t it crazy that this identity discussion concerns the most peculiar character of the whole expedition, who was a last ditch addition to the group and had a very different background than everybody else – including a mystery tattoo which has never been decyphered and the relatives didn’t know anything about? I’m not implying anything specific. But it’s strangely fitting that the first results of a renewed look at this 60 year old mystery immediately produce more questions than answers. Stay tuned….

                  Liked by 1 person

                • Blimey, it’s one of those cases even now that would be difficult to determine, it seems. I’ll keep an eye on this over the course of this year – will be worth a follow up post to see how things are developing.

                  Liked by 1 person

  2. I have to correct my last statement concerning the identity of the corpse which has been exhumed from the grave which was believed to contain Semen Zolontaryov: apparently the Russian media have greatly exaggerated the case, and the injuries which have been diagnosed by modern forensics, are compatible after all with the original findings. The problem, which has lead to the claim that there are discrepancies, is simply that the original autopsies haven’t been “state of the art” and not always very exact. All the more reason to exhume all bodies and perform new autopsies.
    As to the DNA tests: I don’t know if this has been resolved, yet, to everybody’s satisfaction. But there are apparently some uncertainties if there may have been undocumented adoptions in the family, which could of course throw off the DNA test results.

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  3. Mr. Wapojif, yes please keep an eye on that fascinating case!
    As far as the Zolontaryov-identity question is concerned: more testing has been done, and the results will allegedly be announced this year. The case of Semen Zolontaryov has generated tons of speculation even before the DNA tests. Zolontaryov has allegedly stated that their expidition would become famous, which is strange if we consider that the victims were just a bunch of students who were on a cross-country skiyng expedition in order to upgrade their outdoor certificates. Zolontaryov was also a last-moment addition to the group, he was much older and he had a very different background. Also, his body sported a prominent tattoo, which could never be explained, and his family members knew nothing about it. This is noteworthy insofar as in the Soviet Union of 1959 tatoos weren’t just fashion statements, and they were only acquired for very specific reasons. All this may not be relevant for solving the case. It could be a red herring and “collateral” information which often turns up in an investigation. But in a murder investigation a close look at the background of the victims should be standard procedure. Their behavior before they died, should also be scrutinized. Unfortunately this didn’t sufficiently happen because the investigation was shut down prematurely with an out-of-jail verdict, which hinted strongly at (super)natural forces. And the re-opened investigation decided to look solely into accident and natural-force scenarios 😦

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  4. Who made this video? Hasn’t it been proven that most (if not all depending on which site you’re on) did not in fact die of hypothermia? What about the injuries they sustained? How can he say they just all sat around and let themselves die of hypothermia while being exceptionally experienced hikers? What a load of crap. Isn’t it possible that they were deliberately gassed out of the tent? That explains the bleeding from their noses, internal bleeding, leaving without shoes and the panic to get out of the tent, but then calm when they’re out of the tent as they cannot see any immediate threat and probably have nfi what is going on at this point. Also why they can’t return to the tent to get supplies. Then they walk down to the forest to stay warm with a fire, the perpetrators see they’re still alive, and clearly bash the crap out of each of them until they’re dead. Some try to go back to the tent thinking the gas has gone but don’t make it back due to the injuries already sustained. There’s evidence on the bodies that they’ve been in a fist fight. That rules out aliens. If you look at the connection from the two that joined the group at the last minute who were both involved with top secret Russian stuff and radioactive weapons, it seems likely they were the reason this happened (which also explains the radioactive clothing) and everyone else in the group suffered for the fact that they were double agents. Boom! Solved. *waits for the Russian mafia to turn up at door*

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s LEMMiNO, his channel is entertaining. But, yes, I don’t agree with his theory – although it’s quite well realised, but falls apart under scrutiny.

      You’re safe from the Russian mafia here, don’t you worry!

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