Researcher sheds light on chilling 'Mountain of the Dead' tragedy
Theories abound for how skiers brutally died
Something grim and darkly mysterious occurred nearly six decades ago in the wintertime, in the northern Ural Mountains of Russia.
Nine young hikers perished in what is known as the Dyatlov Pass Incident.
The official Soviet-investigation report found that the adventurers had succumbed to a “compelling unknown force,” or a “compelling natural force,” as it has also been reported.
The bodies were scattered in different groupings. Some victims suffered severe bodily injuries. Investigations made it obvious that at least several had frantically fled the safety of their tent and plunged down a mountain into snowy, dark, frigid wilderness with minimal clothing in the sub-zero cold.
Yury Doroshenko’s body was found with just socks, no shoes. Georgy Krivonischenko also was found dead with no footwear.
In another twist, there were strange images in the sky had been captured on camera by the skiing party on the final night of their existence.
Also caught on camera, in film left behind, was a strange figure in the bleak wilderness that has been likened to the legendary yeti.
Plenty of conjecture -- including fantastic alien theories -- has engulfed the tragedy during the 58 years that have passed since the deaths of the seven men and two women.
Speculation has arisen about ultrasound possibly disorienting members of the expedition and causing them to inexplicably slash through their tent -- rather than spending time opening the front of the enclosure.
They rushed down a mountain slope, leaving provisions -- including tools -- behind.
Perhaps the ultrasound emanated from military weapon testing.
Or maybe it spun from a vortex created by mountain peaks.
Was a military accident to blame?
Some swatches of clothing contained elevated levels of radiation: How could that type of poisoning have played into the scenario?
Even the possibility of the Russian hikers being overtaken by delirium by the ingestion of a certain kind of mushroom has been floated as a theory to help explain what seemingly amounts to the unexplainable.
Researcher Keith McCloskey has dealt with the plethora of theories and speculation.
He examined the riveting tragedy in his 2013 book, “Mountain of the Dead: The Dyatlov Pass Incident” (The History Press) http://www.dyatlov-pass-incident.com/.
Three years later, the English author has followed up his exhaustive probe with the self-published “Journey to Dyatlov Pass: An Explanation of the Mystery” . https://www.amazon.com/Journey-Dyatlov-Pass-Explanation-Mystery/dp/1539583023
The 2016 publication details his trip in the summer of 2015 to the remote wilderness that holds Kholat Syakhl, also known as the “Mountain of the Dead” where the doomed hiking party set up camp.
The hikers had embarked on a test-of-skills journey, with the goal being Mount Otorten, but the slopes of Kholat Syakhl turned out to be their final destination.
In an email interview, McCloskey was asked if it was awe-inspiring or eerie to travel to the location where the campers met their end on the night of Feb. 1-2, 1959 -- and where a commemorative monument now stands.
“It was both -- a feeling of excitement and a kind of melancholy that we were going to the place where they had died,” McCloskey said. “As we neared the mountain, the feeling of excitement really started to build. Our first day up by the memorial rock, the mountain itself was covered in mist, which gave it a creepy feeling … . My eye kept going back to it. It was as if the mountain was talking to you and saying, ‘I know everything.’ ”
Researchers may not know everything, but they know with certainty that the night sky over the doomed hikers was pierced with strange lights -- flashes of lights/fireballs -- in the dark hours when they died.
Cameras from the Dyatlov group’s party that were recovered after the tragedy held negatives that proved as much.
Photographic evidence indicates four of the nine hikers were looking at the vivid illumination, as one of the recovered images shows the heads of three apparently facing the lit sky, while a fourth took the photo from behind them.
McCloskey’s book ties the lighted sky to an explanation for the deaths that might involve “something connected with the military.”
Did a rocket or missile descending on Kholat Syakhl cause the tragedy?
Did military aircraft drop explosives in some sort of exercise?
Were flares used for illumination, thereby stirring the curiosity of the skiers and resulting in the photos of light that were taken?
Some members of the Dyatlov group were found to have died from hypothermia.
But others succumbed to severe trauma to the body, apparently “blast type injuries,” according to McCloskey.
Semyon Zolotarev was missing his eyeballs.
Lyudmila (Lyuda) Dubinina was missing her tongue.
And like fellow hiker Zolotarev, numerous rib fractures were discovered in Dubinina’s upper torso -- one rib fragment even penetrated her heart.
Visiting the scene of the violence with his travel partners proved to be an emotional experience for McCloskey.
“When we stood at each location of the tent and the bodies, I would close my eyes and try to imagine that night,” the writer from Berkshire, England, recalled. “The most poignant for me was the rock where Lyuda’s body was found -- almost heartbreaking to imagine her final moments.”
It took a full three months to find all of the bodies.
Remembering Victims of a Nightmare
Explanations for the deaths encompass a dizzying -- and often far-fetched -- array of theories.
The demise of the exploration party is linked to everything from tetanus infection to hostile actions by the indigenous Mansi people for encroachment on their land.
Those two guesses are generally given little credence by experts -- a good number of whom gravitate toward beliefs embraced by McCloskey.
“Whatever happened to them was man-made and technology-based, in my view,” McCloskey said. “There appears to have been something going on in the sky that night, and whilst that does not necessarily mean that is what killed them, it almost certainly had some bearing on what happened because it was too much of a coincidence.”
Aside from the illumination in the bitterly cold sky, another clue to the fate of the hikers lies in the eye-opening finding that three items of clothing from the victims “showed significant levels of radioactive contamination,” according to McCloskey’s book http://www.keithmccloskey.com/.
Again, the presence of substantial radiation steers toward a possible military-related explanation for the deaths.
Soviet artillery, battlefield rockets and training weapons could have been a radiation source, according to McCloskey’s book .
McCloskey feels radiation “probably played a part” in the chilling episode that took the lives of the trekkers, led by 23-year-old Igor Dyatlov, an engineering student from Ural Polytechnic Institute in Sverdlovsk, Russia.
His surname has become the common title of the tragedy.
“There was then, and still is now, a large nuclear warhead storage area some distance to the south of where they were,” said McCloskey, who noted that all members of the ill-fated expedition were members of a Ural Polytechnic Institute sports club.
Traveling to the far-off, imposing realm of Kholat Syakhl for his book had its daunting aspects for McCloskey.
“The greatest difficulty is that I am a non-Russian speaker,” the researcher said. “I have started learning the language but I have a long way to go.”
Additionally, there is a secrecy barrier that hinders research.
“The other impediment in following my theory is that I believe it was something to do with the military, and to find somebody to say something is not that easy now, as you can get into a lot of trouble in Russia if you had been in the forces and discuss anything to do with the military that might be considered sensitive, even from a long time ago.”
Although McCloskey holds to a basic theory as to what happened on the frigid February night almost 60 years ago, he concedes in his most recent book that a cryptic aura still pervades the tragic episode.
“I recall standing on the ridge at Kholat Syakhl where the Dyatlov group had pitched their tent that night and looking down towards the tree line, thinking to myself that it all seemed so obvious and yet, I had the sense that there was still something strange about it all that almost defies explanation.”
The bizarre nature of the Dyatlov Pass Incident includes the severe internal injuries that some of the victims sustained, without accompanying external indications of such trauma, including lack of lacerations.
McCloskey has pointed to the assertion that an infrasonic -- or sound -- weapon could have caused the worst of the injuries.
While highly skeptical of the infrasonic explanation, McCloskey leans toward the notion of technology gone awry.
A former paranormal investigator in England, Ryan Preston likewise steers toward an explanation of the catastrophe that focuses on a man-made, armed forces-related cause.
“I concluded that it was a military accident that had gone wrong, and the nine hikers were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Preston said by email. “All of their wounds and injuries conform to the physical effects of aerial mines and rockets.”
The “collapsed chests” that some of the hikers sustained manage to conform to the belief that “they simply were in the blast radius,” according to Preston, an English expatriate living in Germany.
Additionally, Preston believes nature played a part: “I believe there was some kind of an avalanche.”
Despite conflicting theories that abound, there is plenty of reason to believe chaos ruled the dark as hikers hastily left their tent without proper outerwear in the biting cold. It was later found that two members of the Dyatlov party had frozen to death after building a small fire near a cedar tree away from camp.
“They did everything right; but they were overcome by the impact of military equipment and natural conditions,” Preston summarized.
McCloskey, keeping in step with Preston, does not buy into fringe theories for explanations as to what killed Dyatlov and his fellow trekkers.
Dismissed are the speculative slivers of conjecture: yeti, aliens, a brutal brawl among the hikers, wild animals, an attack by native people or by criminal escapees.
Additionally frightful natural sound waves which may have caused panic are not really given credence.
As McCloskey summed up in his latest book: “There is no actual great conspiracy as such about the Dyatlov Incident. I believe it was a tragic accident and the simple truth is that nobody wants to own up to it … .”