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The Mystery of Mary Celeste
The Mysterious Incident at Dyatlov Pass - Unsolved Mysteries
99    Dibyendu Banerjee    06/07/2021

On 23 January 1959, a group of seven men and two female students of the Urals Polytechnic Institute in Yekaterinburg began a skiing and mountaineering expedition in the frigid wilderness of the Russian Ural Mountains toward a peak locally known as Dead Mountain. The team also included one sports instructor who fought in World War II and was led by a 23-year-old engineering student Igor Dyatlov. They planned a three-week trip with a plan to return by 12 February, and the goal of the expedition was to reach the Otorten Mountain. They arrived at Ivdel by train in the early morning of 25 January, then took a truck to reach Vizhai where they spent the night. Although they began their trek toward Gora Otorten on 27 January, one of the members, Yuri Yudin, had to leave early in the expedition on 28 January due to a sudden inflammation of sciatica which made him disappointed, but ultimately saved his life.

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Nevertheless, the others continued, arrived at the edge of a highland area on 31 January, and began to prepare for climbing. At some point, they dropped off some of their surplus food and excess gears, intending to use them for the return trip. The next day, the group started to move through a pass. However, due to some unavoidable circumstances, probably due to worsening weather conditions and decreasing visibility, they lost their direction and deviated toward the top of Kholat Syakhi or the Dead Mountain. As they realized their mistake, they pitched their tents at the base of a small slope, which was an odd spot to set up a camp, according to experienced hikers. Later, it was revealed from their personal trip accounts that they were in good spirits and had dinner at around 7 in the evening. Nobody knows what happened that night, but possibly an intensifying blizzard chilled the night air to subzero temperature, and the hikers never made it to their next waypoint. They never returned from their planned 200-mile adventure.

the mysterious incident at dyatlov pass

As there was no news from the group till 20 February, the related families became worried, and as it was a treacherous terrain, a search party was sent on the following day. The first thing that was found by the rescuers within a few days, was the tent used by the hikers, which was found facing north-south, with the entrance facing south, and the north part is covered with snow. They also found a flashlight on the tent, lying on top of 10 cm of snow.

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But the scene soon baffled the rescuers as it became evident that someone had slashed the tent from inside by using a knife to carve out an escape from it. It was estimated that, since both the entrance and the exit were still tightly fastened, the hikers found their way out from the tent through the cuts made on the side. The tent was empty, except some food, a flask of vodka, a plate of white pork fat, and the shoes, all seemingly abandoned without warning. Nine sets of footprints were also found, left by people who had ventured out in sub-zero temperature for unknown reasons, wearing only socks or a single shoe or even barefoot, leading down to the edge of a nearby wood.  There they found the remains of a small fire under a cedar tree with broken branches up to around 15 feet up the tree.

the mysterious incident at dyatlov pass
The last known photo of the group showed them cutting into the snow to put up their tent.

As the snow thawed over the next few months, the rescuers had to face more spine-chilling sights, when they gradually found the bodies of all the nine hikers amid the snow, trees, slopes and ravines. Two of the men were found in just their socks and clad only in their underwear. Some had broken ribs, fractured skulls, and a missing knuckle, while one had lost the tip of his nose. One young woman, identified as Lyudmila Dubinina, lost both her eyeballs and her tongue, possibly to a hungry predator.

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Although six of the nine hikers died of hypothermia due to prolonged exposures to very cold temperatures, a criminal investigation blamed their unusual deaths on an unknown natural force, and the Soviet bureaucracy kept the case in cold storage. However, the absence of detail about the shocking incident in a deeply secretive state gave rise to several long-lived theories of conspiracy, massacre, secret military tests, and even Yeti attacks.

the mysterious incident at dyatlov pass
The view of the tent as the rescuers found it on Feb. 26, 1959.

In an attempt to put an end to the unwanted stories about the clandestine military tests and renewed media interest, Russian authorities recently re-examined the incident of the Dyatlov Pass and concluded in 2019 that, a sudden avalanche was primarily responsible for the nine deaths. However, the absence of key scientific details in the report, and a clear explanation as to how an avalanche could have taken place with no documented evidence of its occurrence left behind, led to continued doubts around the report from a government long infamous for its lack of transparency. As a matter of fact, there are many flaws and failings with the theory of a sudden avalanche, as the snow in the abandoned tent appeared to come from the blowing wind and an avalanche is unlikely on the spot due to the slope of the mountain. Above all, it is not an avalanche prone area. In case of a sudden avalanche, the footprints would have been wiped away, and the members of the group would not have been able to outrun an avalanche. There also remain so many unanswered questions, as to why the members of the expedition had to escape the tent through the cuts made on the sides; why they had to die of hypothermia; why their skulls were fractured and the ribs were broken; and why did they stop to build a fire.

the mysterious incident at dyatlov pass
Configuration of the groups tent

Although the incident at the Dyatlov Pass remained shrouded in mystery, in 2019, a Swedish-Russian expedition, after investigating the site, suggested that a violent Katabatic wind could be a plausible explanation for the incident. They also mentioned that in 1978, eight skiers were killed, and one was severely injured on Anaris Mountain in Sweden due to the sudden eruption of a terrible Katabatic wind of around 95 feet (29 m) speed per second on a rather calm and clear day. The Katabatic wind, literally means descending wind, is a rare phenomenon that occurs over ice sheets or extremely cooled mountain areas suddenly, without any warning. Also known as Gravity Wind, the hurricane force can reach even up to around 265 feet (81 m), and can create havoc. According to the Swedish-Russian expedition, the topography of Dyatlov Pass is very similar to the affected location of the Anaris Mountain in Sweden. It is not impossible that with the sudden eruption of the violent wind, the terrified members of the team of expedition frantically abandoned the tent when they were scantily dressed and were getting ready for sleep, ran to take shelter behind the tree-line. To find their way back to the tent, once the winds subsided, they even left a turned-on torch on the top of the tent. While most of them died of exposure, others somehow constructed two temporary shelters, one of which collapsed, leaving them fatally injured.

the mysterious incident at dyatlov pass

Despite so many theories and hypothesis, which include so many ifs and buts, we will probably never know for sure what exactly happened that night to those young people at the Dyatlov Pass, named after the leader of the team. There is no way to know, why those young people cut themselves out of the tent in sub-zero temperature and escaped scantily clad into the gust of wind, snow, and death in a godforsaken mountain slope.

The Mystery of Mary Celeste
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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