They Died From Catastrophic Injuries. Now, More Answers

The 'New Yorker' looks at recent research on the 1959 Dyatlov Pass Incident
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted May 15, 2021 8:00 AM CDT
They Fled Their Tent Alive. Then, Catastrophic Injuries
A view of the tent as the rescuers found it on February 26, 1959: the tent had been cut open from inside, and most of the skiers had fled in socks or bare feet.   (Wikimedia Commons)

If, like us, you can't read enough about the Dyatlov Pass Incident—or chilling decades-old mysteries in general—then Douglas Preston's lengthy piece for the New Yorker on what may be the definitive cause of the 1959 incident is a must-read. It builds upon previous reports about new research into what caused the deaths of nine young skiers in Russia's Ural Mountains, who apparently slashed their way out of their tent and fled down-mountain to their deaths in various states of dress. The condition their bodies were found in were even more perplexing: Inside one male's mouth was flesh he had bitten off his right hand and there were third-degree burns on his shin, reports Preston. Four bodies found in a makeshift snow den had suffered "catastrophic injuries," with one skull "fractured so severely that pieces of bone had been driven into the brain."

As reported in February, researchers now think a slab of snow slid over the tent and buried it, and that the group inside feared an avalanche was coming and fled. But Preston notes that many of the injuries suffered by the group wouldn't have been caused by the slab, and he provides what researchers suspect occurred: The group managed to build an inadequate fire, and "burned skin on their bodies came from their desperate efforts to seek warmth" from it. That they were so cold suggests that the flesh found in the mouth "was probably a result of the delirium that overtakes someone who’s dying of hypothermia, or perhaps from an attempt to test for sensation in a frostbitten hand." As for those in the snow shelter, they chose a spot above a stream that "had hollowed out a deep icy tunnel, and the group’s digging caused its roof to collapse." They would have crashed onto the rocky streambed and been buried in as much as 15 feet of snow; the pressure could have caused the extreme injuries. (Read Preston's full piece for an explainer of why their clothes had traces of radiation.)

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