The Mystery of Dyatlov Pass

What happened to 9 hikers on the night of February 2, 1959 in the chilly Ural mountains in Russia? Does this mystery have a rational explanation or will we forever have to be satisfied with only the official but eerie answer that "a compelling unknown force" was the cause of their deaths?

The Dyatlov Pass incident refers to the sudden disappearance and odd deaths of 9 hikers in the northern Urals. The incident was named after Igor Dyatlov who was the leader of the 10 person group consisting of 8 men and 2 women, all of them experienced hikers. 8 of them were students. The only survivor of the expedition was Yuri Yudin who had to turn back early during the trip because of an illness that prohibited him from continuing any further.

The goal of the expedition was to reach the Otorten mountain in the Urals, from there they would ski 100 km southwards to the Ojkachahl Peak, then they planned to follow the Toshemka river even further. This was a challenging and difficult task even for this group of experienced skiers due to the harsh winter weather, with temperatures reaching as low as -30 °C (-22 °F). Dyatlov may have considered this difficult trip as training for a future expedition to polar/Arctic areas. The group was to telegraph a message to their sports club as soon as they had made it back to civilization. The agreed upon date was February 12. It never came.

However, it was common for hikers to be a few days late with their telegraphs. Dyatlov had even told them to expect that. Because of this the search for the missing skiers began only on the 20th, with helicopters and the army helping in. Their tent was found on the 26th, empty of people, covered in snow and, weirdly enough, slashed open from the inside. All their stuff was still inside the tent. Many footprints, which suggested that some of them were barefoot or wearing only socks, led away from the tent and to the nearby treeline.

Near the trees the rescuers found the remains of a campfire and the first two bodies. Both the bodies were strangely only wearing their underwear. One of them had attempted to climb a tree, perhaps to get a better view of their surrounding.

Between the forest and the tents they found three more bodies, seemingly trying to return to their camp. That just left the remaining 4 bodies.

The search continued for 2 more months till they finally located the last hikers. They were found under 4 meters of snow 75 meters further into the forest. These bodies had more clothing on, probably taken from the already dead members, but were still missing shoes and other vital clothing.

Now for the weird part. The first five bodies showed nothing unusual - the medical examiner reported their deaths as caused by hypothermia, which had killed them in a matter of hours. The other 4 were a completely different story. One of them had a fatal skull fracture, two others had fatal chest fractures, compared by the examiner as being caused by a force equal to a car crash. They had no external signs of injury, but one of them was missing a tongue. Trace levels of radiation were even found on the clothes of two of them. Some of the bodies apparently had orange skin and grey hair. The case was closed by the investigators, determining the cause of death as a "compelling unknown force."


Like many weird mysteries of the past, the story has been retold, embellished with incorrect facts and suffers from media sensationalism. Translation errors have confused things even further. Many people have relied on supernatural explanations to explain the many strange elements of this event.

Some have tried to explain the event as being caused by a secret Russian weapons test, perhaps an air blast bomb. An explosion might have terrified the skiers and sent them running for cover in the woods. Some of them then die from hypothermia and others are killed by another bomb going off nearby. Evidence for this is flimsy at best - some people reported seeing a lot of scrap metal in the area.

Others even believe that an UFO was involved. There had been UFO sightings in the area. A group of hikers, 50 km south of Dyatlov and others, reported seeing orange spheres in the sky. But those sightings were common in the area and were later explained as being intercontinental missile launches.

Then there are theories that local Mansi people might have killed them, after finding them encroaching on their native lands. That would explain the skull fracture and missing tongue (taken as a trophy?). This theory, though, was quickly dismissed by the Russian officials, as there was no evidence that any other people had been in the area. Also the victims had not been robbed, which would have been unusual. Mansi natives would have regarded the hikers' items as highly valuable. However Mansis might regard robbing the intruders, after killing them, actually as dishonorable. This theory is quite plausible, but no external wounds were found on the bodies and it completely ignores the weird, seemingly supernatural elements of the story, including the crushed chest fractures that would require immense strength to inflict.

According to Occam's razor, the truth is probably much simpler. Even the highly intriguing official explanation that an compelling unknown force killed them, is a western misunderstanding. The correct term is “Force Majeure,” which is just a standard expression that's used for any unexplainable and significant vent. The avalanche fear theory is in my opinion the most plausible. The group, maybe startled by a rumbling noise, jump out their tents in fear of an approaching avalanche and take off as fast as they can to the protective treeline. There they lose sight of their camp and slowly freeze to death. The skull fractures and chest wounds maybe were caused by a fall into a ravine, but the ravine was small and this seems unlikely. Maybe they were killed by an actual avalanche?

The orange skin and grey hair sound much less odd when you realize this was noticed only by one person - a 12-year-old boy. Nobody else in the funeral had considered the appearance of the bodies as especially noteworthy. Months of being buried under snow no doubt has an effect on the appearance of dead bodies.

The trace amounts of radioactivity can also be explained as being caused by the type of camping lantern that uses thorium gas mantles which do emit low levels of alpha radiation. They were also students at a polytechnic university where they might have come in contact with some radioactive material. The missing tongue might have been eaten by a scavenger.

There are still questions. The area was relatively flat and not really prone to having avalanches. How did they sustain such chest and headwounds? Unfortunately we will probably never know, but in all likelihood, it has a more rational explanations than "aliens did it!"

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