Russia Reopens Investigation Into The Mysterious 1959 Dyatlov Pass Incident

Published February 7, 2019
Updated November 19, 2023

The Dyatlov Pass Incident saw the mysterious deaths of nine young skiers in confusing states of undress, severely injured, and with missing body parts.

Dyatlov Pass Destroyed Tent

Wikimedia CommonsThe campsite at Dyatlov Pass. The tent is visibly sliced open, 1959.

On Jan. 23, 1959, nine capable skiers from the Soviet Union’s Ural Polytechnical Institute went on an adventurous hiking trip in the Northern Ural Mountains. They were never seen alive again.

Only photographs of their final days, a confounding scene at their campsite, and yet unexplained autopsy results were left behind. The Dyatlov Pass Incident has since become a plentiful source of conspiracies which range from government secrecy to paranormal phenomena — and with good reason.

Then, in February 2019, Russian officials reopened the bizarre case — and may have finally solved the enduring mystery of what happened to the hikers on Dyatlov Pass.

What Is The Dyatlov Pass Incident?

In January 1959, fifth-year student Igor Dyatlov led seven young men and two women on an expedition to cover 190 miles in 16 days across the North Ural’s Otorten and Kholat Syakhl mountains. They intended to reach a village called Vizhay from where they would make contact via telegram to conclude their journey.

Of course, that never happened, and a search party for the missing group embarked on Feb. 20. What the party found six days later baffled them: a sliced open tent and the nearly completely naked bodies of Yuri Doroshenko and Yuri Krivonischenko over a mile away. Three more skiers were found a few days later, including Dyatlov — the other four were discovered two months later when the snow had melted.

Dyatlov Pass Hikers Group Photo

Yuri Krivonischenko’s cameraTeens Dubinina, Krivonishchenko, Thibeaux-Brignolles, and Slobodin during their last days, 1959.

Some of the hikers had suffered chest fractures so immense that only a car crash could compare to the force of the injury. One of the women was missing her tongue, eyes, part of her lips, and facial tissue. There was also a fragment of her skull missing.

Though a criminal case had opened at the end of February, it concluded that a “spontaneous power of nature” was the cause of death. The Soviets kept the case classified until the 1970s, which had a snowball effect on the global interest in the ominous incident.

Krivonischenko Doroshenko Pass

Russian National FilesThe bodies of Yuri Krivonischenko and Yuri Doroshenko.

For over half a century, investigators continued to scratch their proverbial heads over just what exactly occurred at the Dyatlov Pass.

Russian Officials Reopen The Investigation Into The Dyatlov Pass Incident

Andrei Kuryakov At Dyatlov Press Conference

Donat Sorokin/Getty ImagesRussian official Andrei Kuryakov at a press conference in Yekaterinburg, Russia, 2019.

In February 2019, the investigation into the Dyatlov Pass Incident was reopened as “Relatives, the media and the public still ask prosecutors to determine the truth and don’t hide their suspicions that something was hidden from them,” reported Alexander Kurennoi, the official representative of Russia’s Prosecutor General to CNN.

According to the prosecutor’s office, over 75 theories had been put forward, ranging from alien abduction to murder by members of the Mansi people — a tribe for whom the mountains are spiritual and must be protected. Others suggest the event was a hoax, staged entirely in order to detract from an alleged covert weapons testing program.

The new investigation, however, took just three theories into account — ones exclusively limited to weather-related occurrences.

“All of them are somehow connected with natural phenomena,” said Kurennoi at the time. “Crime is out of the question. There is not a single proof, even an indirect one, to favor this version. It was either an avalanche, a snow slab or a hurricane.”

A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office for Russia’s Sverdlovsk region presented a 400-page file of original case documents and materials at the press conference, alongside an announcement that one month later, prosecutors were to visit the Dyatlov site itself with a crew of rescue workers and experts, including forensic professionals.

Dyatlov Pass Memoriam Site

Wikimedia CommonsA memorial site for the nine dead hikers in Yekaterinburg, Russia, 2012.

Petr Bartolomey, a friend of Dyatlov’s who attended the press conference, described his friend as “a wonderfully knowledgable person, an athlete, always well-prepared…One could always rely on him.”

“I can say the same for the rest of the guys, although we did not go on as many expeditions as with Igor,” he said. “I am glad that, years after, a high-level investigation is resumed to understand what exactly happened.”

New Evidence May Have Finally Unraveled The Dyatlov Pass Mystery

On January 28, 2021, a study published in the journal Communications Earth and Environment identified a possible explanation as to what could have happened to the nine hikers — and it was one that had been suggested from the very beginning.

“A snow avalanche hypothesis was proposed, among other theories, but was found to be inconsistent with the evidence of a lower-than-usual slope angle, scarcity of avalanche signs, uncertainties about the trigger mechanism, and abnormal injuries of the victims,” the study authors wrote.

Yuri Yudin Going Back Due To Illness

Russian National ArchivesThe Dyatlov Pass hikers say goodbye to Yuri Yudin, who did not continue on the journey due to illness.

But as they went on to explain, there may have actually been evidence of a slab avalanche at the scene, which could have formed from the wind causing snow to accumulate on a slope over the hikers’ tent.

The study identifies a combination of “irregular topography, a cut made in the slope to install the tent and the subsequent deposition of snow induced by strong katabatic winds” that may have led to the slab avalanche, creating severe yet non-fatal injuries to the hikers.

This would align with the autopsy results as well. In theory, the avalanche fell upon the hikers while they slept, forcing them to flee their tent in the cold night, which could explain why they were found in various states of undress, with a litany of strange injuries.

Dyatlov Pass Hikers

Russian National ArchivesMany of the hikers were found with injuries similar to those of a car crash victim, but researchers suggested the particular avalanche that killed them was much more brutal than usual.

“We do not claim to have solved the Dyatlov Pass mystery, as no one survived to tell the story,” lead study author Johan Gaume told Live Science shortly after the study’s publication. “But we show the plausibility of the avalanche hypothesis [for the first time].”

To put their theory to the test, the team created a digital simulation, based on weather reports from the time of the incident, to show how the avalanche would have come down on the hikers. And since the hikers were lying flat on their backs while sleeping, the sudden slab of snow falling on them could have caused “severe but non-lethal thorax and skull injuries.”

Of course, this was all still just a theory. But it was the first time a truly scientific explanation had been put forward regarding the mystery that actually held up against counterarguments.

It doesn’t explain every facet of what happened to those nine hikers back in 1959, and even with this new study, the Dyatlov Pass case may never be fully closed. Still, this explanation does serve as a solid, logical counterargument to the many conspiracy theories that will continue to be put forward.

After reading about Russian official reopening the investigation into the Dyatlov Pass Incident, read about the cannibal couple accused of eating up to 30 people in Russia. Then, read about the solar observatory in New Mexico reopening amid speculation that aliens caused its closure.

Marco Margaritoff
A former staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff holds dual Bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a Master's in journalism from New York University. He has published work at People, VICE, Complex, and serves as a staff reporter at HuffPost.