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Happy Saturday, everybody. Hey, if you have listened to this week's episodes on Isadora Duncan, you have heard us talk in a listener mail about recent research into the cost of the Dyatlov Pass incident. That includes Monday's email from listener Kiki, who hinted that we might run that episode, which originally came out on October eight, 2014, as a Saturday classic. So when we read Kiki's email, we genuinely thought we had done that already. But there was so much back and forth where we did ask about it.
If we have already done this as a Saturday classic, we sure cannot find evidence of it anywhere.
So here it is by request. Our previous episode on the Dyatlov Pass incident.
Enjoy. Welcome to stuff you missed in History Class, A production of I Heart Radio. Hello and welcome to the podcast. I'm Only Free, and I'm Tracy B. Wilson, and we're creeping up into Halloween territory, my favorite time of year.
So it's time for a little brush with the mysterious, the unknown and believed by some to be paranormal.
The story isn't exactly spooky, depending on your definition of that word, but it is quite unsettling in many ways.
If you were to just do a quick Google search on the Dyatlov Pass incident, you will instantly turn up dozens and dozens heading into the hundreds of sites that focus on paranormal investigation, conspiracy theories and even cryptozoology. In some cases, this is really a tragic piece of Russian history. It happened during Soviet era, Russia in Siberia, and it's never really been fully explained. And as a consequence, there is an entire culture of theories that has kind of grown up around it.
So today we're going to talk about what we actually know about this doomed hiking expedition and then some of the theories about it, as well as some of the less fantastical possibilities in terms of explanation of what happened that day. And we need to give a little warning on this one. Some of this information could be a little upsetting. If you are squeamish to corpse talk.
There are some injury related details that are germane to the story that I know when I was relaying them to my husband, Brian kind of gave him what we call the Houzz, where you kind of go.
So if you are a little bit squeamish about details of how dead bodies have been found and things that had happened to them, just know that you might want to proceed with caution here. Or if you have kids that might be affected by that, this might be a good one to listen to before you share with them. So we are going to talk about the Dyatlov Pass incident today.
Yeah. And if you are fans of our colleagues podcasts, if they don't want you to know, you may have gotten a very brief glimpse of this already. Yeah, there's like a couple of minutes of video.
And I feel like we should mention at the outset, Tracy, neither Tracy nor I are Slavic language speakers, so our pronunciation of names might be a little dicey.
We looked online for pronunciations of all of these words, and they're shockingly difficult to find anybody like a native speaker recorded saying them.
Yep. So I kind of went by the things that I have heard other, you know, historical documentaries using their pronunciation and hopefully we will offend no one if we are terribly wrong in pronunciation. It is not out of a desire to be disrespectful.
In January of 1959, a group of young Russian hikers and ski enthusiasts was preparing for an adventure in the Ural Mountains, and this group consisted of Yuri Uden, Lyudmila Dubina, Zinaida, Coman, Grover Alexander Kolevar of Rustem, Slobodan Yuri Cravenness, Shango Yuri Doree Shinko, Nikolai Tibo, Brinjal Salman Zola Zolotov and the group's leader, Igor Dyatlov, who the pass eventually became named after him.
Since he was widely recognized as the leader of this group.
Most of the members of the group were students that Euro Polytechnical Institute, and they were all experienced hikers. The route that they had mapped out was a challenging one, but they were all pretty much up for it. It would have been a daunting but doable plan. So they were not, you know, running in a foolhardy manner into something that was way beyond them.
No, and Dyatlov had been hiking this route before, so he was familiar with it. And to begin, they traveled by train to Evo in the Sverdlov province, and from there they took a truck to the last sort of town. And some people will call it an outpost or a settlement before their run at the mountain. And while they were there in that last settlement, Yuri Uden actually became quite sick. He was only going to be unable to handle the rigors of the trip, so he stayed behind.
Igor Dyatlov told his sick friend that he would send a message as soon as they were back from their expedition. And the estimated return date was two weeks later, which was February 12th. And so without Uri Uden, the rest of the party set out on January 20th of 1959, and that was the last time anyone outside that group would see any of them alive, according to their diaries, they set off through the past, but they lost their way because of bad weather and they wound up going farther west than they meant to.
When they realized their mistake, they set up camp and this was February 2nd. So it had only been a few days into their trip. They were only about a kilometer away from an expanse of forest that would have offered them some shelter, so it's kind of unclear why they didn't head into the woods.
Yes, some have theorized that Dyatlov did not want to head towards the woods because it would have involved backtracking. And they were kind of trying to get their bearings on how far they had drifted off course and where they were going to go next. And he may not have wanted to backtrack, not knowing, but we really don't know why they didn't.
So do Yablokov, it turned out, did not contact Yurie or he was going to send a message to their sports club, which would then relay messages out on February 12th, as he had said he would.
But at that point, Uden was not really concerned. Hiking trips through snowy mountain terrain could easily experience delays. Dyatlov had even told him it could be a couple of days after that. But eventually a week had gone by after the expected return date and there had been no news from the young hikers.
And so friends and families, for obvious reasons, became very concerned.
Authorities were alerted and an investigation was mounted on February 20th. The search team set out to look for the missing hikers.
And for almost a week, the searchers found absolutely nothing in them. And remember, they were not in the same place that they were expected to have been. So that was part of the delay in finding them. And then on the sixth day, the group's camp was discovered on the eastern shoulder of colored cycle to the mountain.
And that name in the language of the Mansi people who live in the area means dead mountain or mountain of the dead, depending on which interpretation you see. And no doubt this moniker has kind of helped contribute to interest in the legend throughout the years. The tent was torn open from the inside, which is creepy. Yeah, yes.
And the hikers winter clothes, food and skis were all left behind. The footprints of eight or nine people were found in the metre deep snow and they were headed down the mountain and toward the forest.
Yeah, the footprints, according to some descriptions initially look like they scattered in all directions. But then they kind of all headed in the same direction downward. And the day after they found the camp. And it's sort of a bizarre scenario. The first of the bodies were found.
Eurekas Curve Onishchenko, your and your Doris Chanko were found near the edge of the forest and they were only wearing their underclothes. It seemed like they had set a fire, although it wouldn't have protected them from the freezing cold for very long. Scrapings of their skin was found in the bark of the trees nearby, suggesting that maybe they had tried to climb up away from something or more likely to get a better view of the surrounding area.
Yeah, because remember, there had been a terrible storm that kind of caused them to lose their bearings in the first place.
So they may have been just trying to figure out where they were soon after the two Uri's were found, three other bodies. So Igor Dyatlov, Zino, Comayagua, Rova and Rustem Slobodan were found between those first two bodies and the campsite and their body positions led investigators to speculate that they were actually attempting to return to camp because they were all facing the camp direction. Slobodan had a skull fracture, but it was not believed to have been fatal.
Two months went by before the last four bodies were found in a ravine, and that discovery was made on May 4th. Their deaths were caused by trauma rather than hypothermia. Nicholas Thibeault Bunuel's skull was crushed. Alexander Zealotry of who was the oldest of the group by far at the age of 37, had a whole lot of broken ribs. Ludmilla Anina had broken ribs and her tongue was gone.
Yeah, the missing tongue is often the thing that people go and her tongue was gone like. That's kind of one of the stingers in the ghost story versions of this.
All of the hikers that they found were either in their underwear or sleeping clothes for the most part, will get to a little bit more of that in the second.
And they were all either barefoot or in stocking feet. It's believed one of them was wearing just one shoe.
So when they abandoned their tent, they were basically walking into subzero temperatures. I've seen it listed as 30 degrees below Fahrenheit. And some of the hikers, particularly the ones found later, appeared to be wearing clothes of others. So it's possible that Caravana, Shinko and Dura Shinko had died first and then their friends, disoriented and not certain that they were going to be able to find camp, had taken what clothes they had been wearing because remember, they were found in just their underwear in a desperate attempt to kind of buy time by covering themselves just a little bit more.
Dr. Borrus, Basra's Dennie was the medical examiner in charge of the autopsies. It was determined that the first five bodies which were found had all died of hypothermia and the cases of skull and rib. Fractures, he determined that the force that caused the injuries would have been on par with that of an automobile crash because of a large amount of blood found in his stomach. It was believed that she was alive when her tongue was severed and that she had swallowed the blood that resulted from the injury.
Yeah, that comes up as being kind of a tricky part of the equation when people are trying to theorize what happened.
There was a very brief speculation early on in the investigation that the Mansi people that were living in the area may have attacked the hiker, considering them to be interlopers on their land. But there was really no sign of struggle or combat. So that theory kind of got put to bed very quickly. You know, humans could not have caused the damage that was detailed in those autopsy findings. In the end, the medical examiner ruled that the students had been the victims of, quote, a compelling unknown force.
And with that, the official Soviet investigation of the case was shut down in May 1959, just a few months after it was begun.
The case files and the reports were closed and they were archived.
The area where the camp and the bodies have been found was kept off limits to other explorers for several years. Some people point to this as proof that there was a cover up, but it's entirely likely that the officials simply did not want to risk losing anyone else to whatever killed the nine members of the party. In the 1990s, photocopies of the case files that had been locked away for decades were released to the public, but they were incomplete. There are some gaps there, missing pages.
That's another thing, of course, that people like to point out as part of a conspiracy theory later on. I think we should also point out that at that point, the leadership of Russia had changed and it had been for decades.
And there's not always when it comes to archival situations, things are not always handled with kid gloves or properly things get misfiled. So those are also potential things everyone wants to jump to cover up. And I'm not saying that there couldn't have been one, but you also have to consider the more mundane elements.
And as the story of the Dyatlov Pass incident has persisted through the years, there have been additional details that have kind of been woven into the fabric of the story.
Some versions mentioned that the hikers and their clothing were highly radioactive. And there are also alleged eyewitness accounts from other hikers who were south of the area that described glowing orange lights in the sky above the mountains. But those details really are hotly debated. There's little to nothing in the officially released records about these two points.
So depending on which blog, message, board or news article you venture into to read, some will play up these points and kind of sensationalize them. And some will dismiss the radiation as a normal trace level amount and the light as either being a false recollection on the part of the witnesses or a natural phenomenon that the viewers simply misunderstood or didn't recognize for what it was or a crackpot theory.
That's my addition. Lev Ivanov, an investigator who had worked on the case, claimed in an interview in 1990 that he took several eyewitness accounts describing brightly flying spears, but he was told to close the case.
Yeah, and again, we don't we know that eyewitness accounts of any event are always a little bit suspect.
People's memories fail them not through any nefarious, you know, desire. They just they're not always correct. There is yeah.
There is an increasing body of scholarly work about how hugely unreliable eyewitness accounts are. Yeah.
And next up, we are going to talk about some of the theories as to just what exactly might have happened to those hikers in Siberia. There are many possibilities and innumerable theories. We will not talk about all of them exhaustively, but we want to cover some of the more kind of popular and well-known ones. But before we get to that, Tracy, do you want to have a word from our sponsor? Yes, I do.
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So would you have an unsolved mystery that stretches on for decades, especially an unsolved mystery that has some really weird details that have been there since the beginning? Lots of theories crop up around it, and there are several that have cropped up around this incident over the years.
Yeah, one that actually is kind of recent E.. Earlier this year, Discovery aired a show that blended fiction and documentary to pitch the idea that a Russian yeti had claimed the lives of the nine hikers.
I will be super blunt and say that this was not well received.
Well, it's funny because we get to the part about the tent being ripped open from the inside. My first thought is werewolf.
I didn't even think about that. Yeah. So one theory that also does not have much traction is that escaped prisoners from a gulag attacked them, but there was nothing taken from the camp and there was no sign of that sort of struggle. I mean, people clearly had some traumatic injuries, but there were no sign that they resulted from a fight with someone.
Yeah, they really didn't have any external damage. There is another theory that the entire group had eaten contaminated food. One of the early findings was that their last meal had been roughly five or six hours before they died. So some had theorized that they ate some sort of contaminated food with some sort of bacteria that caused them to have sort of a psychotic episode and that they all became disoriented and confused and they basically went mad from eating bad food.
There's even one theory that the hikers were killed somewhere else and then the whole abandoned camp and all the resting places were staged afterward. And this one is supported by statements from Utne. Remember, he's the one that got sick and wound up not going on the trip. He was asked allegedly to identify every item in the camp and who it belonged to. And there were several items that he couldn't recognize or identify. And this included ski's a piece of cloth and a pair of glasses.
I think it's kind of easy to dismiss this idea, but how in the world would one person have knowledge of every single thing, every other person with them owned and carried with them? Yeah. And I mean, I not to, you know, discredit him. But again, we talk about eyewitness accounts, having some reliability issues anyway. And you're talking about a kid in his early 20s who just found out that nine of his closest friends died in a really gruesome and horrible and mysterious way.
So there's some shock in the mix that can really mess with your memory in your thought processes, in addition to it being sort of unrealistic to expect him to know what every single person had packed.
So that also factors in and because of the nature of the injuries of the four bodies found in the ravine, they all had serious internal injuries, but no evidence of exterior trauma. It's been postulated that some sort of explosion may have led to their deaths and that, like a shockwave may have hit them or that they were running and kind of thrown into the ravine with great force.
And this has kind of fed a whole slew of ideas that the Dyatlov hikers met with a bad end due to some sort of military activity, such as a test missile explosion.
There is no record of such a military test happening at this time while they were there.
But proponents of this theory argue that it might not have been divulged even if it had happened. There are two military facilities where rocket trials and nuclear testing took place that are near the scene, but there is no record of them having been doing that when this happened.
So you're Eden's identifying of articles problem is also cited in support of this theory, which, you know, sort of with the suggestion that members of the military got to the camp before the investigators and covered up the evidence, but sloppily left things behind. And I do want to say I was not trying to discredit him, but more to say it's it's it's to be expected that someone would not necessarily be able to identify everything at the camp.
Yeah, it's unrealistic. Like I said, again, this is a person in shock, young also, you know, dragged out there by authorities and gone.
Who owned this? Who owned this? Who owned this? I would be a train wreck.
So and he mentions there's that piece of cloth that he couldn't identify where it came from. And he specifically said he thought it looked like it came from a military uniform, which is another thing that kind of feeds this military involvement theory.
Another story which kind of perpetuates theories about alien or even military involvement, is tied to the recollections of a man who was a 12 year old in 1959 when all of this happened, Eureka and Seviche, who attended the funerals of several of the deceased hikers.
His recollection is that the bodies were a deep brown tan.
He sometimes even described them as orangish in tone.
And he went on to found the Dyatlov Foundation, which kind of searches for. Various solutions to how this all could have happened, but some have discounted his his commentary on this weird color of the skin as being attributed to the fact that they were out in the elements for so long.
Even Wall Street Journal book reviewer Gregory Crouch threw out a theory in his review of Dead Mountain by Donnie Iker. And we'll be talking more about Iker in just a bit.
He suggests that one of the nine, quote suffered some kind of psychotic rage and attacked his fellow hikers. And I will say one more time, werewolf.
It's all clear now, Tracy.
I know it's obviously closed. Why are we doing this episode? Right. They should have just called you to begin with. This would. We could save a lot of people time and money.
So there are obviously plenty of these very interesting and engaging theories regarding what happened in the Ural Mountains in 1959.
But we really also have to consider the less sensational explanations. First, the tongue. The most obvious explanation is that a scavenger animal ate it and, you know, the tongue is pretty easily accessible, soft tissue, and it probably would have been a thing that a meal seeking animal would go for. This doesn't really explain the blood in her stomach, though. It's possible that she fell and bit her own tongue off or because she was the last found or because she was found in the last group, that her tongue had simply decomposed.
Yeah, her mouth was open when they found her. So it is possible that the tongue decomposed with exposure to the elements.
I have never seen like a breakdown of the likelihood of that being the case, sort of worked out with how cold it was and what the preservation of the temperature would have been versus frostbite, deteriorating something.
But that's just one possible explanation. So an avalanche has also been mentioned to explain the trashed camp, and it could explain some of the injuries that had been caused by great forest without external trauma. But there isn't a whole lot of evidence that an avalanche actually happened.
However, I did read several theories that the sort of more likely scenario would actually be that the fear of an avalanche may explain why the hikers ran from their tent in such a poor state of dress for the conditions. If they heard a sound that convinced them that an avalanche was happening. It is possible that they would have run for their lives thinking that they didn't have time to prep and that that is how they found themselves disoriented and lost. And remember, this was a stormy time of year.
It's also completely believable that hypothermia could have played a really significant part in all the strange things about how the deceased were dressed. A behavior called paradoxical undressing is not at all uncommon in cases of extreme hypothermia as your brain functions are compromised in the cold. Often this manifests as taking off your clothing because either you're not thinking clearly at all or you feel like you're hot even though you're freezing to death. Yeah, we talked a little bit about hypothermia and sort of how it affects your brain, as well as some more altitude related stuff when we did our Everest podcast, but I thought about that a little bit.
These weren't at the elevations that the altitude issues were ever brought into play. But, you know, extreme conditions can really cause your brain to do some very bizarre and seemingly nonsensical things. And this paradoxical undressing is well documented in a lot of hypothermia cases that people will try to burrow into the snow with no clothes on because some part of their brain thinks that's how I'm going to survive.
We don't know now, since there's no official confirmation on the radiation levels that we mentioned earlier or the mysterious orange lights theories of secret government testing and aliens that are based around those facts kind of struggle.
It really gets into a lot of theoretical. This could be, but there's just not much to back it up. But we don't want to ruin all the fun for Benomar. It's stuff they don't want you to know.
So for all we know, those were all detailed out in the pages and reports that somehow went missing from the publicly released records. So we'll give them that bone back. But those really don't have a lot of substantiation to work with.
Before we get to one more kind of interesting theory about how this may have happened, do you want to have a word from a sponsor? Let's do that.
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A more recent theory that's come about is that a carbon vortex street caused the deaths, the carbon vortex street is this phenomenon consisting of a series of vortices caused by the separation of wind or fluid by a bluff body. So vortices sort of like tornadoes. Uh, I didn't mean to make that sound like a question that's actually. Swirling wind is really what that is. Yeah, and Wolfberry, so that's the shape of the landscape, right? Right. So when like it's it's kind of you think about, in this case, wind hitting the mountain.
It can't go through it, so it splits to go around it, and because of the shape of the mountain, it forms these whirling vortices and they kind of dovetail on one another and you end up with a chain of them. Yeah.
And what do you look at atmospheric photos of these? They look really beautiful. However, they are incredibly dangerous. Yeah, there are stories of them completely leveling buildings and now in the modern era that they have been studied and understood a little bit better.
Modern architecture, particularly in cities and places where there are multiple structures close together, they really try to factor in not creating an environment that will welcome these sorts of phenomenon to happen or cause them. So Danny Carr, who we talked about earlier, he was a filmmaker. He also wrote a book about the Dyatlov Pass incident, is part of his kind of press junket. As he talked about what was in his book. He mentioned these Karmon Vortex streets, and he believes that this movement of winds through the past could have created such a vortex street.
And moreover, he asserts that this wind event could have resulted in an infrasound phenomenon. And this is pertinent to the mystery because infrasound, which is too low of a frequency to be consciously heard or perceived, but does affect your eardrum and the pressure around you, it's said to cause people to experience disorientation. They can have shortness of breath. They can have irrational fear. So it kind of messes with your head a little bit. And if this were the case and this had, in fact, happened to the Dyatlov party, it offers another possible explanation for why they ran out of their tent into the, you know, certainly fatal cold.
Iker asserts the surroundings of the past form the perfect environment for the creation of a carbon vortex street. The dome of the so-called dead mountain is really symmetrical. It's dome shaped, as that suggests. So it's the perfect blunt object to form eddies of splitting wind as the gusts come up against it. Yeah, I don't know if they've ever been able to. He is part of his book research and his project actually tried to recreate their hike. And I don't know that they came came into it.
I haven't read the whole book. I don't know if they came into a situation where they saw a duplication of that happening or not, but food for thought.
In more recent happenings in 2008, there was a meeting which was organized by a state technical university or polytechnic, which is the university that the students had attended and the Dyatlov Foundation.
And they gathered independent researchers and former rescuers to gather and discuss all of the possible evidence. Because you remember, the Dyatlov Foundation was set up to try to figure out exactly what happened.
And this group determined that when taking all the evidence into account, all signs really pointed to a military test accidentally causing the deaths. However, the group also issued a statement saying that the defense ministry and other government agencies would have to provide them with some additional documentation before they could say they had definitive proof.
So they kind of were making a super theory, but they don't really have the evidence to back it up.
Yeah, there are a whole lot of films, both documentary and docu fiction, that have been inspired by the Dyatlov Pass incident. In 2012, director Renny Harlin made a movie that was loosely premised on the recreation of the journey, but it veered very wildly into fictional territory. Oh, yes, super not.
I think I was I have not seen it. It's called Devil's Pass and I haven't seen it. But Kristen from Brain Stuff and I were talking about it. He's seen it.
And he was he was saying like, yeah, they never found the bodies. And I'm like, that is not accurate.
So clearly, that film has a lot of, like, liberties taken with the story in order to further the plot along. There is actually I'm really looking forward to this.
There is a PC Mac video game that's coming out that is based on the events of the Dyatlov Pass incident. It's entitled Carlot. And if you're interested, it's coming out of a Polish Games company and that is going to be out in early 2015. And I'm really curious to see what they do with it.
Uri Uden, the young man who left the group before the hike because of his illness, lived to be 75 and he died in April 2013, is often quoted as saying, If I had a chance to ask God just one question, it would be what really happened to my friends that night? And I think that's one of the things that's really like there's such a focus on the whole unsolved mystery conspiracy angle of all this, because I I've I've looked around there's websites.
We've had a lot of people that have requested this episode.
And, yeah, I've sort of been like I personally don't feel like researching that. So I'm really glad that Holly did. But, you know, I have poked around at some websites and people have asked and like, they pretty universally forget about the fact that these were a group of college students who died. And that's tragic. Like, that's pretty much not talked about at all.
Yeah, it really it really becomes about the my theory versus your theory mentality. A lot of times it's I understand the appeal of that and it's very fun. And it is fun to theorize on sort of what might have happened, kind of play armchair sleuth.
But as you said, you know, these are nine except for the one man that was in his 30s. They were all in their early 20s. They were really young. Yeah.
Those were people's friends and family members. Yeah.
And they were, by all accounts, very bright. Three of them were engineers that I think we're doing graduate work. And then the others were younger students. I think they were undergrads. But so they all had really bright futures ahead of them. They were all very smart.
As we said, they were accomplished hikers like they really you know, they were just setting out in their lives in it. And there is a small memorial monument to them with their photos on it.
But I think you're you make a great point. Yeah, well, they realized that there was a student who was supposed to be part of my freshman class in college who fell from a waterfall and died right before, like on a school sponsored trip immediately before the school year. And it really rocked the campus, like people who had never even met her were just profoundly affected by it. So I can't imagine having a group this size who were all students, who all died unexpectedly on a trip like this.
I can't imagine what it must have been like for their classmates and colleagues and family members afterward.
Yeah, and the the gentleman we mentioned earlier, Yuri, could seviche, who had been 12 when this all happened, when he spoke of the incident. You know, as an adult, his recollections are really very their impressions of sort of the emotional state of their community and how everyone was really devastated.
I mean, it was a huge loss. So something to think about. And as enthusiasts are still looking for the real answer to what happened in the Dyatlov Pass in 1959, we may never know it, but part of the problem is that the clock is kind of running out for some people, the people that were actually involved in the investigation or who knew the AICHR, the hikers are all aging.
So and many have already died. So in terms of eyewitness accounts, even though they're unreliable, in terms of talking to people that were actually part of what happened there, there's not really going to be anybody to ask any additional questions of soon, although there are still people, of course, that hold out hope that there is a fuller record that the the Russian government has that they will someday release.
I personally kind of hold more to the they don't say much because they don't know anything else. And probably some records got lost. But that's just my sort of pragmatic I presume they're kind of like shrug, which could be perceived as a cover up, if that's what you want to see. But I really think it's more of a I don't know.
So that is the Dyatlov Pass incident, which is fascinating, I'm sure we will get lots of theories in our e-mail.
I actually kind of hope so. That would be some fun October reading. Thanks so much for joining us on this Saturday. Since this episode is out of the archive, if you heard an email address or a Facebook URL or something similar over the course of the show, that could be obsolete. Now, our current email address is History podcast and I heart radio dot com. Our old HowStuffWorks email address no longer works and you can find us all over social media at MTT in history.
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