On January 23 1959, Russian radio engineering student Igor Dyatlov led a skiing expedition of nine through the northern Ural Mountains. There were no survivors.
An inquest into the hikers’ deaths noted one’s tongue was missing, another’s clothes were ‘radioactive’ and one man had bitten off his own finger.
Tents were slashed from the inside and most of the bodies were found partially naked.
In 66 years, nobody has been prosecuted and theories have ranged from yetis, missile testing, territorial indigenous tribes, storms and mass hysteria.
The coroner, under the guidance of the Soviet Union, eventually attributed the mysterious deaths to ‘hypothermia’.
But now, with advances in forensic technology and compelling new insights, could this mysterious old case finally be solved for good?
Together with journalists from Ruptly, a leading forensic expert, and local guides, Mirror Online invites you to review this ground-breaking video investigation.
Decide for yourself – was it hypothermia or something far more sinister?
The crime scene and the victims
Igor Dyatlov was expected to send a telegram to his sports club from the Urals no later than February 12 about the groups progress but no such message was received.
After families became concerned for the group’s welfare, a rescue mission was launched with army and militsiya forces searching the area by plane and helicopter.
On February 26 1959, searchers stumbled upon badly damaged tents, which had been torn down the middle from the inside.
Footprints were found at the scene, though bizarrely not in complete sets. Some could have been made with bare feet.
The bodies of Krivonischenko and Doroshenko were soon found.
They were shoeless and dressed only in underwear.
Branches on a nearby tree were broken, suggesting one member of the group had climbed up to look out for something.
Searchers later found three more bodies: Dyatlov, Kolmogorova and Slobodin.
New forensic findings show ‘defensive wounds’
One expert delved deeper into some of the injuries found on the bodies of the hikers to establish if they could have been inflicted by a person.
This video retraces the steps of the group. First it shows a number of dummies designed to aid coroners and forensic experts by demonstrating how wounds are inflicted – particularly how a certain movement could result in a certain type of injury.
Eduard Tumanov, Doctor of forensics at Pirogov Russian National Research Medical University, said: “The injuries described in the Dyatlov forensic medical report are identical to the ones represented here on these dummies, which gives use reason to assume that these injuries could be received in self defence.”
“Dyatlov. He has small grazes on his face, the protruding parts of his face, which allows us to suppose that they could have been caused by him falling face first in the snow.
“These abrasions happened because his legs were tied together with something. They were either handcuffed or shackled, or bound with some sort of rope, because, in the cold, rope freezes up and becomes fairly solid.
“There is a very interesting note in the forensic medical report: there are red-brown coloured grazes and indentations around the front, side and rear surfaces of both ankles.
“It’s interesting that he has abrasions on his metacarpophalangeal joints, which are here. What does this mean? He hit his hands against something or someone. Judging by everything, there was a fight.”
‘There was no explosion or avalanche’
Doctor Eduard Tumanov says: “So they light a fire and take their clothes off to dry them, at which point something or someone terrifies them and they start to climb up the cedar tree, because they have injuries consistent with climbing up a tree trunk.
“Straight away we can rule out death by avalanche, explosion, we can rule out chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, electromagnetic weapons, etc.
“The theory that animals attacked, bears, wolverines, etc…there are no injuries consistent with an animal attack.
“Judging by the chaotic nature of the injuries, variety, would suggest that there was not one single object that would have caused these injuries to everyone.
“In summary, one could assert that someone attacked them, someone without a firearm, or at least they didn’t use it, without a knife, or they didn’t use it, all the injuries were caused exclusively by hard, blunt objects.
“They were probably inflicted by a human hand.”
Unpacking one skier’s chilling ‘message’
Former Editor-in-Chief of Russia’s Pravda, formerly the communist party of the Soviet Union paper, has also expressed doubt of any kind of ‘missile testing’ but he does believe the incident was ‘pre-planned’.
Vladimir Sungorkin said: “When one of the most mysterious characters, the most mysterious person in the group called Zolotarev got on the train, he was accompanied by a big group of students and he said ‘We are going on such an unusual hike that we’ll be renowned afterwards.’
“We have no explanation for this, it’s absurd. Why would you become famous just going hiking? One could theorise that they were conducting some sort of experiments with drugs, adaptogens, performance enhancing drugs.
“Maybe for the military, the KGB, or cosmonauts. Maybe, having taken this medicine, unknown to us, they could lose their minds and kill each other in all these different ways.”
While this theory is speculative, it could help to make sense of the radio activity at the scene and why nothing known to medical experts showed up on the toxicology report.
When asked if he thought they had been testing missiles, he said: “So a rocket went off course, what’s next? They say that there was a missile testing range here. This is absurd. What is a testing range? It is a specially-equipped site.”
He continued: “There are devices there, there is surveillance. Everything is cordoned off. And these mountains were climbed by five groups of tourists. It is a popular place, because the mountains are bare and beautiful, and the taiga is also beautiful. There were five groups of tourists there. And they all went through Ushma.
“On visiting the pass sixty years on he noticed some key unusual points.
“They climbed up the cedar. They’re all scratched up. One of them has a piece of finger they’ve bitten off in their mouth. It remained in his mouth, he bit his finger off.
“So he died, it’s clear he bit his finger off because he was in agony, otherwise, why else would you bite your own finger off? He died there as a result of this pain.
“When they analysed burns on his leg, they once thought that he fell and was burnt, but the burn did not show this. The person was either hung above the fire or they took a log from the fire and burned him on the cedar from below. Can you imagine this? It’s unusual to say the least.”
The missing clothing and ruling out a Mansi killing
As theories fly, there is one worth mentioning.
As all of the hikers were found in barely any clothing, it is possible they could have simply succumbed to hypothermia.
One symptom of this is known as ‘paradoxical undressing’, when a person is in the final stages of hypothermia they believe they are boiling and undress despite the freezing conditions.
What this does not explain is why the hikers ran from their tents, down the mountain and into the trees.
One theory that has haunted local people is that ‘the Mansi’ – a local indigenous tribe – could have been behind the killing.
But speaking to Ruptly’s Russian correspondent, one Mansi guide said it couldn’t have been his people behind the shocking deaths.
He said: “They [the Mansi] only come here in the summer, at the end of May to hunt deer.
“When the snow falls, they go to the forest.”
Since the death of the hikers, the Mansi have nicknamed Dyatlov pass (named after the group leader) ‘Kholat Syakhl’ or ‘the Deadly Mountain’.
Back in March, Russian prosecutors conducted a week-long expedition to the eastern ridge of “Height 1079”, where the incident occurred, to conduct various tests in the hope of better determining what really happened.
More recently, expert Andrey Valentinovich Kuryakov said: “What are we doing this for? I would like to emphasise once again: in order to provide the relatives with answers.
“They have every right to know this information. First of all. And secondly, to prevent such incidents in the future.”
The investigation’s latest results are expected this Autumn.
Will they call it a frenzied murder?
Or will this case remain cold and frozen in the icy Ural Mountains forever?