61 years after nine skiers disappeared while on a 220mile trek in north Russia – the case has finally been solved according to Russian prosecutors.
In 1959, a group of Ural Polytechnic students – seven men and two women – led by 23-year-old Igor Dyatlov were all very fit and experienced hikers. Only the previous year, Igor had successfully completed the same route with a different party so there was confidence that there would be no problems encountered that they could not deal with.
The target was to reach Mount Otorten (translated as ‘Don’t Go There’ in the local Mansi language). One of the group members had fallen ill and turned back and the remaining nine hikers got lost along the way – ending up on the slopes of Kholat Syakhl (translated as ‘Mountain of the Dead’ in the Mansi language).
Then on the night of February 1st, something caused the skiers to flee their tent in such terror that they used knives to slash their way out. Search parties were sent for them and the bodies of the group members were found with massive injuries including missing tongues and eyes.
The autopsies stated that these violent injuries were caused by an ‘unknown elemental force’, the area was sealed off by authorities and the full events remained unexplained. Theories including Yetis, UFOs, escaped prisoners, and chemical weapon testing have all circulated for decades.
Then in 2019, Russian authorities announced that they planned to reopen the investigation in a bid to solve the case once and for all. An experiment was conducted in an attempt to recreate the circumstances faced by Dyatlov’s group and they have finally reached a conclusion.
Senior state prosecutor Andrei Kuryakov has revealed the group’s tent had been in danger from an avalanche and that is why the group fled the tent.
Kuryakov stated, “This was a natural avalanche limiter. They did everything right. Visibility was 16 metres. They lit a fire and then searched for their tent – but it had vanished in the whiteout after the avalanche.” Adding, “They froze to death in temperatures of between minus 40C and minus 45C.”
What Is Paradoxical Undressing?
Hypothermia might, in this case, seem a mundane answer after 61 years of speculation; yet in theory, it does hold up.
People who are freezing to death and have succumbed to hypothermia enter a state of ‘paradoxical undressing’ where they start to remove their clothes that are keeping them warm. This explains why many of the group were found by the search party in a state of undress.
In Western mountaineering circles, this is also referred to as ‘cold stupid’. In conditions of extreme cold, the body attempts to protect itself by moving blood into the core of the body in order to protect the vital organs.
This is why the hands and feet become noticeably cold yet the victim is feeling an effect of extreme and overwhelming warmth. They then start to shed their clothes thereby speeding up the process of the body temperature lowering.
When the process of ‘paradoxical undressing’ has begun, the victim is already well on the way to dying of hypothermia. There are no known examples where anyone has reached this fatal stage and survived without outside intervention.
This theory also explains why some of the injuries discovered during the autopsy showed signs of a serious physical assault. It is well-documented when a person who is suffering from hypothermia is offered assistance; they will physically attempt to push away anyone who tries to help or act violently.
The autopsy showed that both Igor Dyatlov and another group member named Rustem Slobodin suffered hand injuries that are common in fist fights.
There were also bodies found wearing clothes that had belonged to other members of the group – these clothes had been forcibly removed using knives. It is then suggested that the surviving members – those who were the last to die of hypothermia – removed the clothes of the deceased in an attempt to avoid the same fate.
Some of the bodies had been placed side by side, suggesting respect for the already dead members of the group.
Although in this case, paradoxical undressing explains why the bodies were discovered in various stages of undress in sub-zero temperatures; it does not fully explain the events that took place that night. Something happened that caused them to panic and exit the tent as fast as possible.
Why Did The Group Choose To Slash Their Way Out Of The Tent?
What led the group to slash their way out and destroy their shelter rather than exit through the front entrance? The side of the tent had been completely knifed open by the group from the inside; there were two large holes made big enough for them all.
When the tent was later examined, there were also two smaller holes made at crouching height in order to look outside and see what was out there. It was likely through these peepholes they first witnessed the horror that made them flee.
Inside the group’s tent, the search party found warm clothes including waterproof jackets and footwear. If the group slashed at the side of the tent and fled due to the threat of an avalanche, why would they choose to escape barefoot and leave behind everything that would enable them to survive the extreme conditions?
Did an avalanche really cause the group to run away from the tent in the first place and if so, why would it take six decades for such an explanation?
These ongoing unanswered questions will keep this mystery as one of the most terrifying of all time.