The Dyatlov hikers traveling up the Lozva River. Front to back Nikolay “Kolya” Thibault-Brignoles, Alexsander “Sasha” Zolotaryov and Lyudmila “Luda” Dubinina (left). Photo from Dyatlov hikers recovered camera. 1959
JRT: The mystery of the Dyatlov Pass incident (Перевал Дятлова), where nine experienced Russian hikers were found dead in the northern Urals, has bewildered researchers for decades. A new book by American Donnie Eicher attempts to solve one of history's great questions: What happened to these nine hikers?
In an interview with Failure Magazine, Mr. Eicher reveals what the most commonly held theory amongst Russians is:
In Russia, what is the most commonly accepted explanation for what happened?
The most common theory is that the government was involved and there was some type of cover-up [JRT: The bodies were found to contain abnormally high levels of radioactivity]. The Russians, in my experience, don’t trust their government. The problem is that no one had a logical reason behind what the government might have done or why they would have killed the hikers.
Is it any wonder that Russians don't trust their government?
From Failure Magazine:
In January 1959, a group of students from Ural Polytechnic Institute in the Russian city of Sverdlovsk set out on an ambitious winter hiking/skiing trip, their ultimate destination: Otorten Mountain in the northern Urals. One of the ten hikers, Yuri Yudin, turned back midway through the trip due to health concerns, a decision that saved his life. Weeks later, after the other nine failed to return home, a search party began combing over a large swath of remote wilderness. Within a few days the searchers located the group’s tent, but found no trace of its former inhabitants. The hikers—who would subsequently become known as the Dyatlov group, a reference to 23-year-old leader, Igor Dyatlov—had made camp on the gentle eastern slope of windswept Holatchahl mountain, which means “Dead Mountain” in Mansi, the language spoken by the indigenous people of the region.
In the ensuing months, search parties would discover the bodies of all nine students, in separate locations, all approximately a mile from their camp site. The seven men and two women were found half-dressed, nearly all without boots (left behind in their tent) and some without socks. Autopsies would reveal that six of the nine died from hypothermia, but three were deemed to have perished from violent injuries, with one victim missing her tongue. Adding to the mystery, a radiologist determined that the hikers’ clothing contained abnormal levels of radiation, and it was established that the group’s tent had been cut open from the inside out. What no one could explain was what possessed the inadequately-dressed skier-hikers to venture away from their only source of shelter into the bitter cold of a dark, windy, midwinter night.
View from Ural Polytechnic Institute where the Dyatlov hikers attended university. Photo from Dyatlov hikers recovered camera. 1959
More than five decades later, the overwhelming majority of Russians remain familiar with the case, and many are quick to opine about what might have occurred. Potential explanations include: murder at the hands of the military, escaped prisoner attack, avalanche, and death by nuclear waste. But it wasn’t until earlier this year that Donnie Eichar, an American film and television producer from Malibu, California, presented a new and entirely plausible scientific explanation for what happened. Eichar spent four years investigating the case and took two trips to Russia, during which time he gained access to the group’s journals and photographs, as well as previously unreleased data and criminal case files. He also interviewed friends and family members of the hikers, including the aforementioned Yudin, who shared his recollections before passing away earlier this year. Last but not least, Eichar attempted to retrace the group’s steps—during the winter, of course—all the way from Yekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk in the Soviet era) to the site of the fatalities, a place now known as Dyatlov Pass, in memory of the hikers.
One of the last shots taken by the Dyatlov hikers. Photo from Dyatlov hikers recovered camera.1959
In “Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident” (Chronicle Books), Eichar recounts the trials and tribulations of his trips to Russia, and reconstructs the Dyatlov group’s trip, with a strong assist from both Yudin and Yuri Kuntsevich, the latter the president of the Dyatlov Foundation, whose mission is to preserve the memories of the hikers and uncover the truth behind the tragedy. In the end, the author presents a thoroughly modern explanation for the hikers’ seemingly irrational behavior and subsequent deaths, one which he developed in conjunction with Dr. Alfred J. Bedard, Jr., and other researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, Colorado. While Eichar prefers to save the details for those who read the book, suffice to say that his theory involves a particular type of repetitive wind event (one that could be produced by the topography of Dead Mountain), which in turn might have triggered panic-inducing infrasound.
Earlier this month, Eichar spoke with Failure about the challenges of researching the Dyatlov Pass incident, which has spawned more than its share of conspiracy theories.