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They Fled the Tent to Their Deaths. Now, a Search for Why

Russia to reinvestigate the Dyatlov Pass Incident
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 6, 2019 11:00 AM CST

(Newser) – On January 23, 1959, 10 students set off on a skiing trip in Russia's Ural Mountains. One became sick and bowed out. The other nine didn't make it out alive, and though their bodies were recovered, the mystery of how they met their end has persisted for 60 years. Now, Russian prosecutors will employ modern technology in their new investigation into what's known as the Dyatlov Pass Incident. CNN reports the prosecutor's office says there've been 75 theories proposed over the years, with the more outlandish ones involving aliens and a secret weapons test. In this investigation, only the three theories considered most likely will be pursued: that there was an avalanche, a snow slab, or a hurricane. Here's what's known so far, and what prosecutors are considering:

  • Igor Dyatlov, a fifth-year student at Ural Polytechnic Institute, was leading a group of men and two women on what was to be a 16-day, roughly 200-mile trip. All were described as experienced hikers, and journals found after their death recorded what sounded like an ordinary trip.
  • When the group wasn't heard from, a search was organized and began on Feb. 20. Six days later their tent was found—sliced open from the inside. Listverse reports warm clothing, compasses, axes, and knives were left behind in the tent. The next day, two bodies were recovered, roughly a mile away, clad only in underwear, and by a campfire. Three more bodies were recovered shortly after; the other four emerged in May when the snow melted.

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  • A three-month investigation determined the "spontaneous power of nature" was behind the deaths. But nagging questions remained: Why did they flee without shoes and so lightly dressed? Why did some have broken bones and skull fractures—yet no external sign of trauma? Australia's ABC reports one woman was missing her tongue. Others were said to be missing their eyes.
  • "Crime is out of the question," said Alexander Kurennoi, the official representative of Russia's prosecutor general, per CNN. "There is not a single proof, even an indirect one, to favor this (criminal) version."
  • Ditto government involvement, says Andrei Kuryakov, who will head up the team of experts. He tells TASS that a number of the 75 theories "stem from conspiracy theories ... alleging that the entire incident was engineered by the authorities. ... We have proved that 15 theories explaining the hikers' deaths by secret activities of law enforcement agencies are ungrounded."
  • Prosecutors will in March travel to the site with experts, for "nine various inquiries and examinations," says Kuryakov, per TASS. Among what's planned: a forensic examination, the construction of a psychological profile for each of the nine, and a reenactment of sorts, which will seek to determine if they all could have exited the tent through the slit.
  • In a deep look at the case in 2017 for Motherboard, Derek Mead details the oddity of the decision to set up camp about a mile from the tree line, and where each of the bodies was found in relation to the tree line. Read it here. "The simple story is probably best," Mead writes. "The team was buried in an avalanche, and in a state of hypothermia-induced delirium, rushed off in search of help. Avalanches are incredibly powerful, and being caught in one could likely result in the types of blunt trauma some of the group received." But that doesn't explain the fact that their clothes reportedly bore traces of radiation.
(Read more strange stuff stories.)

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