Published by: The History Press - 2013-07-01
by Keith McCloskey
In February 1959 nine young skiers died in strange circumstances in the northern Urals Mountains in Russia. The leader of the Group was Igor Dyatlov who had only just turned 23. He was an affable and highly experienced skier, hiker and orienteer. There were two strong willed girls in the Group: Lyudmila Dubinina and Zinaida Kolmogorova. There were also another seven males: Yury Yudin, Rustem Slobodin, Semyon Zolotarev a tough World War Two veteran and expert in unarmed combat, Alexander Kolevatov, George Krivonischenko, Yury Doroshenko and Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolle who was born in one of Stalin's GULAGs where his French Communist father had been imprisoned and executed.
The whole Group were all very fit, experienced hikers and skiers and only the previous year, Igor Dyatlov had led a party on the same route, so they were confident that there would be no problems encountered that they could not deal with.
They left Sverdlovsk and travelled north by train, lorry and then finally by foot and skis. They reached an abandoned village of wooden houses previously used by geologists (on 27 January). They spent the night there and it was here on the following day (28 January) that the tenth member of the Group, Yury Yudin decided to turn back as he felt he could not carry on because of illness.
Their target was to reach the 1,234 metre Mount Otorten (translated as Don't go there in the local Mansi language) but they ended up on the slopes of the 1,079 metre Mountain named Kholat Syakhl (translated as Mountain of the Dead in the local Mansi language).
Up to 28 January 1959, everything can be independently verified about the Group's journey. Beyond that date and despite the presence of a Group diary and photographs, nothing can be verified.
When search parties found their tent, they saw that the side of the tent had been slashed and footsteps led away from it in deep snow. The first bodies were found to have died of hypothermia. The remaining bodies were found weeks later and were found to have no external marks, but internal injuries resembling those inflicted by a car crash. One of the two females in the group was found to have her tongue missing.
There appeared to be no rational explanation for the circumstances of their deaths. The official summing up of the case described the deaths as being caused by an unknown compelling force.
Since the official files were made available for viewing, the mystery has only deepened as there appears to be no theory or explanation which satisfactorily describes what happened to the group.
My book, Mountain of the Dead: The Dyatlov Pass Incident is based on original research in Russia and using the Dyatlov group diaries, photos and interviews with surviving people connected with the group and the sole survivor from the group, Yury Yudin who turned around because of illness. Yury Yudin passed away on 27 April 2013
If anyone should think (as I did) that a trip up to the Dyatlov Pass in the summer would be a 'doddle' then these pictures will give a good idea of what the mud is like. It can take literally hours to go just a few kilometres in these conditions. Provided you have a reasonable degree of fitness, it is probably better to make your way through the Taiga on foot.
(Photos courtesy of Natasha and Danil)
These three youtube videos were made by the group that took me off the Dyatlov Pass after my injury on my visit in August 2015 and have kindly given me permission to use them. I wanted to include them because it shows the Dyatlov Pass by the memorial stone but more importantly shows the kind of terrain in the nearby forests which is very difficult even for all terrain vehicles. One of their videos also shows the disused Soviet-era military installation on top of Mount Chistop, only 30 kilometres or so (20 miles approx.) south of the Dyatlov group's route.
1) Standing on the tent location scanning from the ridge down to the tree line.
2) Scanning the ridge from left to right.
3) Scanning the ridge down to the tree line.
4) Scanning from the stone belt ridge (location of the Dytalov memorial stone) over to Dead Mountain and the location of the tent.
Since the publication of "Mountain of the Dead" I have had a considerable amount of feedback.
I wanted to elaborate firstly on the purpose of the book, which is I wanted to get the story out because it was then, the first published book outside Russia on the Dyatlov story. Others are now appearing with each taking a different view of the events.
Keith McCloskey at the Dyatlov Pass, August 2015.
Kholat Syakhl (Dead Mountain) in the background
I have received some criticism that I have rejected nearly all the theories only to give more credence to Yury Yakimov's theory. This is missing the point I was trying to make. As I state quite clearly close towards the end of the book that I personally lean towards a Soviet military accident although I cannot prove it and even that theory is not foolproof and there are some factors which negate it - two in particular being Luda Dubinina's missing tongue and the deaths of some of the group through hypothermia rather than what could appear to be death by a blast in the case of other members of the group.
I wanted to include Yury Yakimov's theory purely as it is a first-hand account of a phenomenon which was experienced by someone who lived and worked in the area. The point is that it is important to try and keep as open a mind as possible because I believe that if the answer is ever to fully come out into the open, it may well turn out to be more than one explanation.
As with other commentators on this, I have found the view of the authorities to be less than candid. I wanted to go into more detail regarding the apparent discrepancies in the official findings but I felt this would have leaned too much towards tearing all the other theories apart and I wanted to leave some room for the reader to make their own minds up despite the reservations I made about some of them.
Lev Ivanov went to his grave convinced that there was a UFO involvement in the case. It could be expected though that someone with a pension and accommodation provided by the state would not be expected to rock the boat too much. Against this is the interview given by a man who worked for him named Vladimir Korotayev. Korotayev was an investigator who worked on the case and found a number of discrepancies which he brought to the attention of his superiors. He was also sceptical, bordering on contemptuous, of the abilities of his superiors involved in the case. Their response was to tell him to get on with his work and not to get big ideas about himself.
It could be said that there is something sinister in this or a cover up but there is also a Russian saying - "Better fifty stupid lieutenants rather than one brilliant one". Sadly Vladimir Korotayev has now passed away, as indeed has poor Yury Yudin, the only survivor of the group that set out on 23 January 1959. Many of the people who were involved in this case in 1959 and are still alive now, will not be with us for much longer and it becomes much harder to find out what really happened. Whether or not you believe that something is being withheld by the authorities (Conspiracy or Non-Conspiracy) the nature of the old Soviet Union still has a strong grip on the place and openness doesn't come easily to those in positions of authority.
As I have said before, keeping an open mind is important and if anyone wishes to discuss any theory or any aspects of the many theories, please feel free to contact me.
I was contacted by a medium in California who very kindly went to the trouble of carrying out a session using the pictures from the book and the map of the route. Her report (11 pages long including the map and pages she used) is here:
Discrepancy in dates the Criminal Investigation was opened - I was contacted by a reader in Germany who made a very interesting observation about the discrepancy in dates for the opening of the investigation. The date of the criminal investigation is given as the 6th of February indicating that the authorities opened the case even before it was officially known that the hikers were missing. What this reader has suggested is that the person who wrote that date into the file was using the Julian Calendar. The Julian Calendar was used in USSR, basically you have to add 13 days to get to the "normal" Gregorian Calendar. So this would mean the file was opened on the 19th Feb 1959, which would match with the sending of the search party on the following day. He points out there is one drawback with this theory in that the Gregorian Calendar was (re)introduced in 1940, after also using a special "Soviet Calendar". But maybe people still stuck to their habits with the Julian Calendar.
Lights in the sky - This is definitely one for the Ufologists - Artie Lemos of Las Vegas drew my attention to the Colares Incident in Brazil. In late 1977 and early 1978, the Brazilian state of Pará was subjected to a series of what appeared to be beams directed at people on the ground. The feature of this strange phenomenon was unexplained lights or bright objects in the night sky. These lights were seen low over the Marajo Bay area in the region. Injuries were reported to have been inflicted by the beams on people in the area and men and women complained of feeling giddy, numb and suffering from headaches after they had been struck by the beams. The towns of Baía do Sol, Colares, Santo Antonio do Tauá and Mosqueiro were most affected. In respect of the lights and the people who follow this theory, there are many similarities between what happened in Brazil and some reports of what happened in the Northern Urals.
Helicopter Theory - An interesting variation on the rocket theory has been put forward by Norene Yarbrough of Cicero. Ill. The theory that the group were killed by a rocket falling on them from a test launch and exploding nearby is believed by a significant number of people to be a cause of the deaths or strongly contributing to the deaths. This theory also holds the view that the last photo taken which shows what appears to be falling lights is actually the rocket coming down. While it is possible that a rocket test firing had gone wrong, Norene has put forward the equally plausible possibility that it could have been a helicopter coming down on them. In many ways this is more of a possibility on this line of theory because there is more likelihood of a helicopter travelling in the vicinity and having seen the light from the tent, may have come down for a closer look in such a desolate area. Again as with the rocket theory, the authorities may have wanted to clean up the mess from a helicopter crash just as much as if they would have if it had been a rocket.
Illegal Mining in the Urals - Steve Smith of Chattanoga has suggested a very plausible theory that the Dyatlov Group may have come across a group engaged in illegal mining activities and been killed because of it. This is a far more likely scenario than some of the other theories. Gold had been discovered in the Urals as long before as the Eighteenth Century. It was not something that was broadcast by the authorities at any stage but for instance in the Nineteenth Century, a young girl named Katerina Bogdanova found a gold nugget in the basin of the Neiva River in the Urals and took it to a local official. Her reward was to receive a whipping and told to keep her mouth shut as it was probably feared there might be an uncontrolled gold rush to the area. In Soviet times Gold Mining was controlled by the state and anyone found involved in illegal mining activities would have received a harsh punishment possibly the death sentence, as this was economic crime. There would therefore have been plenty of incentive for anyone discovered to have gone to any lengths to keep their activities secret had they been seen.
Paradoxical Undressing - The issue of paradoxical undressing has been given a completely different angle by Andre Van Meulebrock. Andre has suggested that the bizarre behaviour exhibited by the group cutting their way out of the tent, rather than taking the time to go through the front, may not just be due to the fear of what was outside but the possibility is that if the group had lost their way in the extreme weather conditions (it is a fact that Kholat Syakhl was not on their planned route), it is possible that due to the extreme cold and exposure on the mountainside, the group or some members of the group succumbed to hypothermia and becoming disorientated and agitated started to slash their way out of the tent and move away from it. It is certainly another explanation for the bizarre behaviour of destroying their shelter and running away from it without proper footwear and fairly minimal clothing.
Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria) - Craig Struthers has put forward an interesting variation on the Ergot theory. He has suggested the possibility of the group becoming poisoned by Fly Agaric (Amanita Muscaria). With the Mansi being predominantly reindeer herders there are stories of the Shamanistic use of the Amanita Muscaria mushroom in western Siberia. Apparently the users of this sacred mushroom, the Mansi being amongst them, would feed the mushrooms to reindeer and drink the urine to filter out toxins before ingesting the psychoactive compounds.
The possibility is that the group may have ingested the mushrooms, either intentionally or unintentionally, and suffered the delirium and sweating with acute doses. This again would account for what appears to be the bizarre behaviour of the group on that final night.
Ergot - A distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Professor Morrin Acheson contacted me to put forward the theory of Ergot poisoning. By eating contaminated bread (bread was a staple food for the whole group), the group may have succumbed to ergot poisoning which would account for much of the very bizarre behaviour that they exhibited the night they died. As a matter of interest, Professor Acheson has a great deal of experience in skiing and climbing in harsh conditions and has climbed Mount Everest.
Sean Kotz of Virginia has also independently arrived at the conclusion that rye bread contaminated with ergot would account for the strange behaviour displayed by the group. Sean has also supplied an interesting theory on the way the group made their way to the base of the mountain (see "Descent from the Mountain")
Descent from the Mountain - Sean Kotz of Virginia puts forward the view that while the escape from the tent by slashing their way out may seem incomprehensible, their descent down the mountain does not. The search party found that they had made their way down the mountain in a line with trails coming out from the line and going back into it. This would be the normal procedure for them to make their way through deep snow as this is the standard method for a group to travel through deep snow where the lead person in the line tramples down the worst of the snow and as the line passes along, they each trample the snow down further. When the lead person in the line gets tired, he or she then comes out of the front of the line and makes their way to the rear which is the easiest position to rest as the people in front have done most of the work.
Tetanus - Another very interesting possibility and one that has not been considered by anybody before was put forward by Steve Smith of Chattanooga with regard to members of the group being infected by tetanus. He points out that amongst the symptoms of tetanus are (among other things, including Trismus - lockjaw) fever, sweating, muscular spasms, a feeling of suffocation, high levels of anxiety and urine retention. One of the features of hypothermia is that the muscles relax and the bladder releases any urine it is holding. However Krivonischenko and Doroshenko both had urine in their bladders (500ml & 150ml respectively) and if they had been suffering from the effects of tetanus, the sweating and fever may have caused them to start removing their clothes in their disoriented state. Steve Smith also pointed out that Igor Dyatlov's autopsy showed he had a very high level of urine retention in his bladder but his cause of death was given as hypothermia. Igor Dyatlov had 1000ml in his bladder. Normal capacity is 400-600ml and a desire to evacuate occurs around 250-300ml. The term "close to busting" would have fitted the state of his bladder quite well. It is odd then that hypothermia had not caused his bladder to release its contents which gives credence to possible tetanus symptoms.
It is worth noting that when the group arrived at the abandoned geologists village on the night of 27/28 January, they made a fire from breaking off planks of wood from the abandoned wooden dwellings. The group diary mentions that they received scratches from the old nails in the wood and this could have been the prime cause for them contracting tetanus. The incubation period for Tetanus can be as little as one day and is accelerated by frostbite.
Retention of Urine in Bladder - Following on from Steve Smith's comments (see "Tetanus") on the retention of urine by some of the group, he has further observed:
The issue about Igor's massive urine retention continues to puzzle me. If he had the tetanus, he might have been unable to urinate. But in almost every other situation, he should have been able to go. So, was he physically unable to go due to because of some poor or toxic body function or was he physically restrained from being allowed to urinate. It is my understanding that for a normal person, their body will create about 1 liter of urine per day. So Igor had an entire 24 hours of urine in his body. This production can be greater due to exercise (like hiking) but it can also be less due to climate (colder conditions contributing to less consumption of liquids). If Igor, as leader of the group, was being physically restrained by someone or some group of individuals from being allowed to urinate, then he would have been retaining the urine. And to preserve his dignity he would have been unwilling to urinate on himself as that would be humiliation. Furthermore, if Igor had urine retention for that reason, then we would expect to possibly see others in the group (who also could have been physically restrained) with some level of retention which we do - George at 500ml and Zina at 300ml. This idea of physical restraint could go with the theory that the hikers were later killed for seeing something they were not supposed to see.
UFO - Lasha Seniuk, who favours the UFO theories, has made a number of points and one I found particularly compelling is that with the presence of the light orbs that final night (which was verified by other observers south of the group), Lasha has suggested that the group members could have been blinded by the light orbs and being unable to see would have had to form some sort of a close line to follow each other down the mountain.
This would certainly account for the frenzied attempt to slash their way out of the tent but what seemed like a more orderly descent down the mountainside which has puzzled some observers. If they had been blinded they would have tried to hold onto one another with one person leading the way in a file as can be seen in some of the shocking photos of victims of mustard gas in the First World War.
Lasha's website is here and episode five covers the Dyatlov story:
S1 Ep5 (season one episode 5) - Strange weather, soul-stealing spiders, JFK, portals to other worlds and the Archons.
Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolle - Steve Smith of Chattanooga also raises a very interesting thought regarding "Tibo". The Communist system killed his father (in the Gulags) and he was a product of the Gulags himself having been born in one. He was with a group consisting of the very finest products of the Communist system - young students who were all good communists and hoping to forge their careers through being strong supporters of the party. Luda in particular was fond of using the expressions "for the motherland" and "for the party" in order to spur people on to greater efforts. She suffered most out of all of them. Whilst in no way suggesting that "Tibo" was responsible for their deaths (including his own), it is possible that he may not have felt as warmly as the others towards a system that had basically destroyed his family and may have been involved in some kind of revenge attack which went badly wrong for him as well. This is merely a piece of supposition but interesting nonetheless.
Watch Keith on Russia's Mystery Files - Dyatlov Pass Incident broadcasting on the National Geographic Channel from November 2014.
In March 2013, I acted as consultant for the filming of a drama-documentary on the Dyatlov Incident.
The filming took place outside Vilnius, Lithuania and the programme is expected to broadcast on the Discovery Channel from August 2013.
On December 20th 2015, The second part of the interview with George Knapp
is an update regarding my trip to the Dyatlov Pass.
On November 17th 2013, I appeared on the Coast to Coast AM Radio Station in America. Coast to Coast AM airs on more than 560 stations in the US as well as Canada, Mexico and Guam and is heard by nearly three million weekly listeners. It is the most listened to overnight radio program in North America. In just 4 days my 2 websites received over 10,000 new visitors.
Interviewed by a journalist and editor who runs
an editing service for self-publishers
Interview - Mysterious deaths and government cover-ups:
Keith McCloskey on how he turned his fascination for history into a writing career
Also appeared on
Steve Warner's Dark Weekend 77WABC RADIO
Where Did the Road Go? - Keith McCloskey on The Dyatlov Pass Incident
Keith McCloskey on Dyatlov Pass Updates
Interviews on YouTube
1) Where Did the Road Go - 2) KLAV1230AM - 3) Open Your Mind (OYM) Radio