Mysterious Deaths of 9 Skiers Still Unresolved by Svetlana Osadchuk, The St. Petersburg Times.
Nine experienced cross-country skiers hurriedly left their tent on a Urals slope in the middle of the night, casting aside skis, food and their warm coats.
Clad in their sleepwear, the young people dashed headlong down a snowy slope toward a thick forest, where they stood no chance of surviving bitter temperatures of around minus 30 degrees Celsius.
Baffled investigators said the group died as a result of a compelling unknown force and then abruptly closed the case and filed it as top secret.
The deaths, which occurred 49 years ago, remain one of the deepest mysteries in the Urals. Records related to the incident were unsealed in the early 1990s, but friends of those who died are still searching for answers.
If I had a chance to ask God just one question, it would be, What really happened to my friends that night? said Yury Yudin, the only member of the skiing expedition who survived.
Yudin and nine other students from the Ural Polytechnic Institute embarked on the skiing expedition to Otorten Mountain in the northern Urals on Jan. 28, 1959. Yudin fell ill near Vizhai, the last settlement before the mountain, and was left behind.
What happened next has been reconstructed from the diaries of the rest of the group and the photographs they took. Copies of the diaries, photos and investigators records were reviewed for this article.
The skiers, led by Igor Dyatlov, 23, set up camp for the night of Feb. 2 on the slope of Kholat-Syakhl, a mountain next to Otorten. They pitched their tents at around 5:00 p.m., investigators said, citing photos that they developed from rolls of film found among the abandoned belongings.
Why the nine skiers picked the spot is unclear. The group could have detoured just 1.5 kilometers down the mountain to a forest, where they would have found shelter from the harsh elements.
Dyatlov probably did not want to lose the distance they had covered, or he decided to practice camping on the mountain slope, Yudin said by telephone from Solikamsk, a town near Yekaterinburg, where the institute, now named Ural State Technical University, is located.
When the group left the institute for the expedition, Dyatlov promised to send a telegram as soon as they returned to Vizhai from Otorten Mountain, which he said would be by Feb. 12.
But Yudin said Dyatlov told him when they parted ways that the group would probably return a few days later than planned.
As such, no one was worried when the group failed to reappear on Feb. 12.
Only on Feb. 20, after relatives raised the alarm, did the institute send out a search-and-rescue team of teachers and students. The police and army dispatched their airplanes and helicopters later.
The volunteer rescuers found the abandoned camp on Feb. 26.
A photo developed from a roll of film found at the camp shows skiers setting up camp at about 5. p.m. on Feb. 2, 1959.
We discovered that the tent was half torn down and covered with snow. It was empty, and all the groups belongings and shoes had been left behind, Mikhail Sharavin, the student who found the tent, said by telephone from Yekaterinburg.
Investigators said the tent had been cut open from inside and counted traces of footprints from eight or nine people in meter-deep snow. The footprints had been left by people who were wearing socks, a single shoe or were barefoot.
Investigators matched the footprints to the members of the group, saying there was no evidence of a struggle or that other people had entered the camp.
The footsteps led down the slope toward the forest but disappeared after 500 meters.
Sharavin found the first two bodies at the edge of the forest, under a towering pine tree. The two Georgy Krivonischenko, 24, and Yury Doroshenko, 21, were barefoot and dressed in their underclothes.
Charred remains of a fire lay nearby. The branches on the tree were broken up to five meters high, suggesting that a skier had climbed up to look for something, perhaps the camp, Sharavin said. Broken branches also were scattered on the snow.
The next three bodies Dyatlov, Zina Kolmogorova, 22, and Rustem Slobodin, 23 were found between the tree and the camp. The way the bodies were lying indicated that the three had been trying to return to the camp.
The authorities immediately opened a criminal investigation, but autopsies failed to find evidence of foul play. Doctors said the five had died of hypothermia. Slobodins skull was fractured, but the injury was not considered fatal.
It took two months to locate the remaining skiers. Their bodies were found buried under four meters of snow in a forest ravine, 75 meters away from the pine tree. The four Nicolas Thibeaux-Brignollel, 24, Ludmila Dubinina, 21, Alexander Zolotaryov, 37, and Alexander Kolevatov, 25 appeared to have suffered traumatic deaths. Thibeaux-Brignollels skull had been crushed, and Dubunina and Zolotarev had numerous broken ribs. Dubinina also had no tongue.
The bodies, however, showed no external wounds.[...]
(This incident also has a wikipedia page. Thanks to Joe McNally for sharing this.)