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February 22, 2008

Nine experienced cross-country skiers hurriedly left their tent on a Urals slope in the middle of the night at around -30 degrees Celsius, casting aside skis, food, boots and most of their clothes. Soon they would be dead, many of them with unexplained physical injuries more suited to car crash victims, and dosed with radiation. Their deaths are still unexplained, 49 years later. The Dyatlov Pass Mystery.

Photos from the skiers' own cameras.

Photo gallery (includes photos from cameras of victims, photos taken by searchers and others).

Dyatlov pass accident @ Wikipedia.

This is fascinating, thanks.

The "blinding" suggested in the Wikipedia article sounds plausible enough. What about one skier's missing tongue? Caused by a sudden physical concussion, maybe?

In Soviet Russia, Urals expedition expedites you...

Radioisotopes collect more in the soft tissues of the body, as I understand it. Hypothetically, if you wanted to take samples to measure radioactive poisoning in a body, for instance, and you were hurried, perhaps you would remove the tongue?

Perhaps predation. Seems unlikely the victim would have bitten it off and swallowed it. If it was spat out, it would be presumably not be found.


Excellent post, Hank. What a better way to spend a dreary Friday than contemplating the events of this case...

I didn't see any mention of finer details of the "missing" tongue. Was it severed with a clean-cut? Jagged, fleshy cuts? That would be a bit more telling.

I agree with roryk -- the "blinding" angle seems to make good sense. The big question is, what could cause such a blinding?

I'm inclined to believe more of the secret-weapon angle than the UFOs, myself. A bright flash would explain the initial panic and flight, the blinding, and the radiation. The radiation would explain the tanned faces. I think the refusal of the military pilots to remove the bodies is a key clue here -- reacting out of superstition or fear seems unlikely, but rather not wanting to put themselves at a known risk.

Which leads to the question -- what kind of weapon? Throwing out a random guess, neutron bombs were being developed at the time. A common misperception is that neutron bombs leave infrastructure intact, although this is not the case with the neutron bombs which have been produced. What if such a bomb were produced that did leave the infrastructure intact? It would account for the flash and blinding, the radiation levels, the lack of any disturbance other than the skiers' own tracks. Certainly would explain the government secrecy.

Which leaves the injuries. My guess is that Hank was right about the tongue thing, to remove it as an indicator of radiation levels. These were engineering types, and presumably, would have a basic knowledge to do that, although the details of exactly what they sought to do -- who knows? There's no word on whether the tongue was removed before or after death.

But the car-crash injuries -- that's the stickler. Being blinded, they could have run into trees and such, get all kinds of injuries. But why no surface injury? Would the skin have been changed from the radiation? The radiation removed evidence of surface injury?

Dunno. Faskinatin', though.

And yes, you have to be running around really hard to get car-crash type injuries, but were it such a neutron bomb, the body would have been weakened. And the explosion needn't have been nearby -- it could have happened around the mountain, and the skiers hit with reflected or secondary blasts.

All of which is complete speculation, of course.

Flatulence of nuclear proportions due to eating dried camping food for weeks. One particularly horrid event forcing the unfortunates out of the tent in the middle of the night to escape, rank to the degree that one victim ripped out there own tongue in an attempt to kill all olfactory ability.

If I was going to test a secret weapon or experiment with potentially lethal radiation, I would do it on a mountain that the locals never went to because they thought it was cursed.

Having read a book on Korolev recently, I am convinced of two things:

1. Khrushchev's capacity for secrecy or harebrained schemes cannot be underestimated; and,
2. Soviet engineers were capable of astonishing ingenuity, despite (or because of) incredible pressure and limits on resources.

The mystery can't be solved without more clues. There are more clues hidden away in government files, if they still exist (see pt. 1).

Wow. What a read. I'm on the military testing side as well.

I also wonder if the force of an impact might have caused the one victim to bite off her own tongue. It could have been lost, or even carried off by an animal.

I think it was Bigfoot.

Polar bears. And raccoons. They're evil, and the latter are radioactive, aren't they?


Also they piss hydrazine.

Reading the comments over on the mother ship, the consensus seems to be avalanche. Personally, I doubt it. If it was an avalanche, there wouldn't be a mystery.

I'm thinking through this on two basic assumptions. First, I'm taking the reports at face value, and assume that such reports are reasonably true. If we doubt any of the statements as presented, we're nowhere. Or more nowhere than we are now. Second, we have to assume that as experienced hikers, they knew what they were doing.

Looking at the avalanche theory on that basis, then, we have to assume that hikers wouldn't have camped in an avalanche zone unless absolutely necessary. Certainly, that's possible, with a sudden storm. Onset of darkness, perhaps, but with the woods 1.5 km away, setting up camp there would have been safer, with not that much more energy and time expended. So either they saw little or no risk, or they were compelled by weather.

What we do know if that they reacted (in part) as though to an avalache, cutting open the leeward side of the tent, and getting the hell out. That they reacted as though to an avalanche does not mean there was an avalanche.

Going on. There was no avalanche at the tent itself. The tent wasn't buried. An avalanche could not have passed through and disappeared, leaving the campsite intact with footprints to be seen. That said, there may have been an avalanche elsewhere, once they had already left the tent. The four metres of snow covering the last bodies may explain that, but then again, perhaps four metres of snow builds up at the bottom of a mountain valley fairly quickly, avalanche or no.

Whatever it was, something scared them out of their minds. I think it entirely plausible that something scared the living shit out of them, and they either thought "that's gonna cause an avalanche", or by instinct, they responded with their avalanche training.

The key is the radioactivity. There has to be another element in play to have caused that.

As for the tanned faces, well, hikers and skiers get tanned all the time. But not all of them had that. On the blue, they said that it could have been decomposition from being in the snow. Only, the ones who were tanned weren't the ones buried. I would think it more likely that the exposed ones were tanned either through windburn or exposure. Such tanning could happen either before or after death. If it was just the result of tanning-during-hiking, it'd be a heck of a coincidence that the tanned/non-tanned groups had the same members as the buried/non-buried groups.

As for the tongue, I still don't buy the biting-off idea. You can bite off the tip or part of the tongue, but the whole thing? She'd have to be sticking the whole thing out at the exact wrong moment, and chomp through a fairly thick piece of meat. I'm inclined to go with a later removal, by a person in their party. While wild animals may indeed go after tongues, it's not exactly an accessible part to go after. There's no mention of her face being chewed up, which would have allowed something to get in there. Otherwise, that wolf would have had to be frenching the woman, and that's unlikely.

No, I think it more likely that it was removed. Perhaps by one of the party, but what the heck are they going to do with it? What kind of testing could they accomplish in that situation?

When we tie that back to the fact that there were objects at the site which didn't belong to the hikers, things start to suggest later visitors.

The military aspect is the most obvious contender. Whoever was there was there fast, and in a hurry to get out again. They were there fast, if they were to remove the tongue from a body that was later buried by snow. They were in a hurry to get out, as otherwise they could have easily cleaned up the site entirely, and no-one would be the wiser, the hikers just having 'disappeared'.

This brings us back to the radiation. If there was testing in the area, the military would have been in the area to begin with. They would have been monitoring the area after, and know that there were even hikers there to begin with, who had to be investigated (I'm thinking that the one guy may not have been in the tree to escape an avalanche, but to signal for help). They would have wanted to get the hell out of there, because of the radiation, but also because they couldn't know if there were other hikers, or if that was it. Removing a soft-tissue sample would tell them a lot that they wanted to know, and they wouldn't have to drag back a body.

But if they were visited, why no footprints? If the military was on snowshoe, they wouldn't leave as deep an impression as a bare foot. Given the winds of a couple days, and the shallow prints would be gone, while the deeper prints remain.

I think we have to keep four events separate -- the hiking and setting camp, the incident in the middle of the night, and the later behaviour of the hikers, and post-death activity. We have to categorize things properly -- such as the tongue being fourth event rather than second, or tanning being fourth event rather than first, etc. If we do that, and if we don't just dismiss aspects of the reports entirely, that's the only way we're going to get somewhere.

Anyhoo, I'm just thinking out loud.

A military clean up team wanting to hide their involvement would have swept the snow of their own prints.

/puts on Mrs. Hudson costume, serves tea and kippers

True, Hank.

Hard to say what "the whole tongue" is. It's a big organ, and the part that's detachable is less than 35% the mass of the whole. And when I say detachible, I mean with a good deal of effot - sawing motion - very stiff muscle to cut through.

What we're dealing with here is an unruly crew of light footed glow-in-the-dark face sucking space yetis, secretly in the employ of the soviet government, who caused an avalanche by landing their nuclear flying saucer on the hill above the skiers and only managed to suck out one tongue before being called off by their KGB handlers.

Monkeyfilter: An unruly crew of light footed glow-in-the-dark face sucking space yetis

What we're dealing with here is me being creeped the heck out.

A tip o' the hat to Hank!

These orange spheres sound amazingly like the orange pine-lights I previously reported for the Curious George thread on Halloween stories (initiated by Tenacious Petal on October eighth, 2004). Mine was around post #40 on that thread. Has it already been that long ago? But this new story happened forty nine years ago. We're lucky to be alive, if I was right to impute end-of-the-world super-naturalism to the phenomena!

Darn! I'll try that again.

Thank you for this, Hank. What a fascinating story! Who thinks this would make a great movie?

I'd pay $9.50 to see it.

(Although it'd need a sex-in-a-sleeping-bag scene added)

Naturally, sex-in-a-sleeping bag is one of the triggers for this event.

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