Aug 5, 2014

The Dyatlov Pass Incident

February 1959, Ural Mountains, Russia. Nine missing skiers found dead. Cause: Unknown

The skiers' tent as it was discovered on 26 Feb 1959
The story sounds like something out of a low-budget horror movie: nine young students go on a skiing holiday in Russia’s Ural Mountains but never return. Eventually, their bodies are discovered – five of them frozen to death near their tent, four more bearing mysterious injuries – a smashed head, a missing tongue – buried in the snow some distance away. All, it seems, had fled in sudden terror from their camp in the middle of the night. Casting aside skis, food and warm coats, they dashed headlong down a snowy slope toward a thick forest, where they stood no chance of surviving bitter temperatures of around –30º C (–22º F). At the time, seemingly baffled investigators offered the non-explanation that the group had died as a result of “a compelling unknown force” – and then simply closed the case and filed it as ‘Top Secret’.
After half a century, the mystery remains. What was the nature of the deadly “unknown force”? Were the Soviet authorities hiding something? And, if so, exactly what were they were attempting to cover up? In the intervening years, a number of solutions have been put forward, involving everything from hostile tribes and abominable snowmen to aliens and secret military technology.
“If I had a chance to ask God just one question, it would be: ‘What really happ­ened to my friends that night?’” says Yury Yudin, the 10th member of the fateful expedition and its only sur­vivor. Yudin had become ill and turned back a few days into the trip. The fate of his friends remains a painful mystery – one which he has attempted to investigate himself.

Yudin and his nine companions had set out on their journey on 23 January 1959, their destination Otorten Mountain in the northern Urals. He and eight of the others were students from the Ural Polytechnic Institute in Ekaterinburg, located in the Sverdlovsk region, 1,200 miles (1,900km) east of Moscow.
Back then, the city was still called Sverdlovsk, and was best remembered as the place where the Tsar and his family were brutally murdered after the Russian Revolution (it was named after the Bolshevik party leader Yakov Sverdlov, who had himself played a role in the killings). In 1959, the Soviet Union was in the middle of a thaw of sorts after decades of Stalinist repression, and life under the new premier, Nikita Khruschev, was becoming somewhat freer. The 1950s saw, for one thing, an explosion of ‘sport tourism’ in Russia as the country started to move away from the austerity of the immed­iate post-war years. A mixture of skiing, hiking and adventure, sport tourism was more than simply a sporting activity in the Soviet Union – for the inhabitants of this closed and regimented society it was a way of escaping the repressive strictures of everyday life, of returning to nature, and of spending time with a circle of close friends, away from the prying eyes of the state. Such activities were hugely popular with students, who would set out on long trips to some of the wildest and remotest parts of the Soviet Union.

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