Евгений Буянов
Mystery of the Dyatlov group death

On February 27th the hunter-Mancie visually discovered the dead Igor Dyatlov whose arm wasn’t completely covered with snow. Dyatlov reclined on his back, clasping the trunk of a small birch on the line connecting the tent and the cedar, 300 m away from the cedar (and 1200 m away from the tent). On the same day Moiseyev with a sheep-dog Alma found Zina Kolmogorova, – the dog scented Zina under 10 cm-layer of thick snow. Kolmogorova lay on the right side with her face downward, also on the line connecting the tent and the cedar, 850 m away from the tent on the open area of the slope. Her face was in blood, and there were blood spots from the nosebleed on the snow.

Karelin and the soldier from the Potapov group found Rustem Slobodin on March 5th with iron probes under a 15–20 cm snow layer. Slobodin also lay on the line connecting the cedar and the tent, between Kolmogorova and Dyatlov, approximately 1 km away from the tent. The ice outgrowths at the face (the same as Dyatlov had) showed that before death he had breathed in snow for a long time, and melted it with his breath. Slobodin, as well as Kolmogorova, had symptoms of nosebleed. All the five victims had small injuries in the form of grazes and scratches on the faces, – these injuries were caused by falling on the slope while descending in the dark (though tourists get such injuries in a campaign very rarely).

Kolmogorova, Dyatlov and Slobodin were found dressed in sweaters and ski suits, – without jackets and quilted jackets. Slobodin had a valenok on one foot. Other footwear on the feet of the victims weren't found, – there were only socks. The location of the bodies and their poses showed that they had been dying on the way back from the cedar to the tent.

Young tourists-students were shocked by the death of their friends. Some of them avoided coming to the dead. The tragedy caused a psychic trauma, which all the tourists couldn’t overcome immediately, and they couldn’t get over the depressed mood at once too. Ortyukov and Maslennikov saw to it that the students of the Slobtsov group, who were the most tired morally and physically, should be replaced in the first place, – they were replaced from 2d of March to 4th.

The dead were lifted onto the pass, to the outlier, near which the helicopter usually landed. On that day there were such strong gusts that Slobtsov was knocked down while carrying the dead, and the ski pole hanging on a loop, was being held in the horizontal position by the wind. Later the helicopter delivered the dead to Ivdel where in the mortuary the Unit «post box N-240» (п/я Н-240) carried their examination and sanitary processing.

Note. The Unit p/b N-240 was management of correctional institutions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs which included 8 offices. Some colonies (work camps of Ivdellag or “Ivdel-camp”) submitted to each office. The team of Tchernyshov’s searchers was mainly formed from soldiers and officers of Military Unit M/U-6602 (в/ч 6602), this connection of internal troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs didn't submit to the Unit N-240 (but it was engaged in work camp guarding). According to V.K.Solter.

After it, the post-mortem examination to determine the cause of death was carried out. All the five tourists had died of freezing, – the ice outgrowths and the frozen snow at their faces obviously showed that the victims had breathed in snow for a long time. However, the commission of experts also found out that Slobodin:

«…had the bone crack with the dehiscence of edges to 0,1 cm (the length of this crack is 6 cm) from the leading edge of scales of the left temporal bone in the direction of the front and up the frontal bone. The crack is in 1,5 cm from the sagittal suture. Besides, there is opening of joints in the area of temporoparietal suture on the left, and also on the right (posthumous) …»

These cracks, invisible from the outside, found only during the internal investigation, were also considered the result of freezing, and weren't attached value.

On March 2, 1959 on Maslennikov’s instructions the Slobtsov group and the hunters Muncie carried out the search of the Dyatlov group’s warehouse, about which it became known from the diary of the group, found in the tent. The warehouse (a storehouse of products for lessening the group backpacks on a radial exit) was quickly found near the searchers’ camp in the woods. The Dyatlov group dug a hole in the snow, put there 55 kg of products in cardboard boxes and some things (a mandoline, the first-aid kit, Dyatlov's cloth boots and spare ski boots). Above it, they put firewood and covered everything with snow. They placed spare pair of skis nearby and put color gaiters «tags» on them – so that they were easier for noticing.

Warehouse («сумьях» – «sumjyakhе» – mansiysky) of hunters Mancie in the taiga.

Photo from the cameras found in the Dyatlov group’s tent

Extraction of the Dyatlov group’s warehouse contents by the search group

The mass ceremony of farewell in the UPI and the funeral at the Mikhaylovsky cemetery took place on March 9. Krivonishchenko was buried at the Ivanovo cemetery.

Funeral on March 9. Farewell

Despite the localization of the search zone, the search of the other four missing tourists was greatly delayed. A big army tent supplied with an oven was put up for the rescuers in the valley of the Auspiya, and then the second tent. At night, in order to avoid surprises, an armed sentry was exposed near the tents in the first days. All people didn't understand how the Dyatlov group had died. The possibility of criminal attacks or those of wild animals wasn't excluded. Therefore the military personnel – the search participants had the charged service guns. Later, in the middle of April, platforms were constructed in the source of the Lozva and the searchers’ camp was moved there, closer to the cedar.

Maslennikov organized urgent search of the other four victims, but in no way could they discover the group. Within several days a wide strip of the slope from the cedar to the tent in the places covered with snow, was probed by a group of rescuers with snow, but it was all in vain. The snow depth wasn’t great on stone ridges lower than the tent, but on other areas it was necessary to apply longer 2 m snow sondes to break through all the snow depth. As it turned out later, such sonde length was insufficient. The pass between the Peak 1096 (Mount Holatchakhl, – on old maps it is 1079) and the Peak 905 (on old maps it is 880) and the mountain range in the direction of the Lozva were investigated, as well as the spur of the Peak 1096, the 4th source of the Lozva and its continuation from the river outlet at 4–5 km, the zone “plague” to the north from the place of accident. No traces of people or large animals were found. There were no direct signs of technical or natural disasters. Certainly, not only skilled tourists, everybody already understood that all the Dyatlov group was lost.

Mansiysky «plague» (see the search scheme from Maslennikov's diary)

From February 3 to February 8 the group of Moscow tourist experts composed of K.V.Bardin, S. Baskin and E.E Shuleshko and the chairman of the regional MC V.I.Korolev, who checked the facts and circumstances of the accident, worked at the place of accident trying to understand its causes. The commission tried to find out, why and how the tragedy had happened, made the description of the events and drew some preliminary conclusions concerning the causes of the accident. The commission noted that weather conditions near the pass are usually severe because of frequent strong winds, blizzards, cold and an icing on rigid crust of snow. The experts drew the general preliminary conclusion that (criminal case p. 35): «… the fear of immediate death could be the only reason which had made the tourists leave the tent. The group started going down the slope in an organized way, but then under the conditions of darkness and a blizzard they were scattered on stone ridges, and the group lost touch with each other and died in a snow-storm …».

Karelin believed that the placement location of the Dyatlov group’s tent was chosen improperly, and it was, probably, one of the causes of the accident. The tent stood on the open slope of the mountain blown through by the wind, and due to its strong rushes the tent could be torn. The wind and lack of fuel for a fire and an oven doomed the group to a very «cold» overnight stay. However, Axelrod and the other tourists of the UPI claimed that in similar conditions they spent the night in a campaign across the Subpolar Ural together with Dyatlov 4 times a year before it. Dyatlov's companions on campaigns protected him from the charges which were put forward unreasonably before finding out the causes of the accident. Nobody made up final conclusions yet.

On February 28 the investigation team (Tempalov, Maslennikov, Summer and other searchers) examined, disassembled the tent and made the inventory of the things. The Dyatlov group put up the tent thoroughly (according to Slobtsov). On the leveled platform they laid 8 pairs of skis with their fastenings down on which the tent was put up. On the bottom of the tent the group laid quilted jackets («under oneself») and empty backpacks which they put at the feet (possibly, they used the known way of warming their feet when they stacked them into the backpack before going to bed). On a layer made of padded jackets and backpacks they spread out 2 or 3 cloth blankets for full length of the tent. The Dyatlov group was covered with other blankets and windbreakers, – these upper blankets lay on top in the crumpled condition. They froze together, as they appeared powdered with snow. One of two fur jackets was pressed in the tent into the slope snow at the entrance, – in this place the tent burst from the side of the slope:«…it was found out at the excavation that the tent batter, turned to the slope, was torn closer to the entrance and a fur jacket was seen in the hole …» (criminal case p. 34 – description of events)

Participants of the search at the army tent

From left to right: Karelin, Tipikin, Nevolin, Axelrod, Atmanaki

The Dyatlov group had no sleeping bags, therefore for the better warming they formed a kind of «collective sleeping bag», laying down closely and covering themselves with blankets (in 2 layers) and jackets. The group was lying in the tent with their heads from the side of the slope (according to Axelrod), and the arrangement of things in the tent also indicated such a way of laying. But two pairs of boots were settled down from the other side (from the side of the slope), – on this basis two of them were lying at the entrance with the heads to the slope. The arrangement is cramped enough: 4,5 m tent length for 9 people. It was hardly sufficient to lie down side by side. Such narrowness could make two of them lie with the head towards the other side (as shoulders are usually wider than feet laid together). «Double» tents, similar to Dyatlov’s one, then were used in campaigns (see, for example, the image from the book «Tourist equipment», M, «Profizdat», 1968, p. 78). They put on ski suits and sweaters before going to bed.

The Dyatlov group put down large things such as buckets, axes and a saw at the entrance into the tent, turned to the pass. The oven filled with firewood, products, small things of equipment, spare clothes and footwear were found in the tent, – generally at the entrance and along its edges. The tent rack at the entrance and its stay-rods remained intact, and the stay-rods from the back side wall were found broken, the back rack was brought down. Lebedev wrote down in his report, in what condition the back rack of the tent had been found: «…In the tent we found a ski stick from which the top end on an accurate ring cut was cut off and one more cut was made …».

It was noted in Vadim Brusnitsyn’s report: “…A ski stick, cut into several pieces, was on top of all the things, and probably a northern ridge of the tent was fixed on it. Only special circumstances could make the group damage the tent, taking into consideration the fact that they had no spare ones…”

Sure, the circumstances were “exceptional”. At that time people didn’t pay attention to such important evidence as this ski stick, a jacket pressed into the gap, a ski-post being in the wrong place, a lantern on the tent snow. The searchers didn’t know all these facts as the information was desultory. Therefore even the most experienced tourists couldn’t give an accurate account of the tragedy.

Maslennikov, Tempalov and the group of searchers (below) at the place of the Dyatlov group’s tent excavation. The things and skis were taken out, the cloth of the torn tent was moved aside from the platform. The hollow of the Lozva head water, where the Dyatlov group departed and tragically died, is visible below. The distinctive plane of a thick crust in the form of «snowy barkhans» is visible on the slope.

Snow sounding at the wood edge. Mount Holatchakhl, its northern spur, dense snow under feet are seen in the photo, and a vague oval spot on the slope slightly higher than the group of rescuers on the right is a place of the tent excavation.

Snow sounding by the group of rescuers in the light forest zone

The search scheme from Maslennikov's diary (it is handed over by Karelin V. G.)

Note. According to Maslennikov's scheme there were 550 m from the tent to the wood border (the wood border on the scheme: three fir-trees, K – Kolmogorova, C – Slobodin, Д – Dyatlov; below: the ceder, the “plague” is on the right; the place, where the 2d lantern was found, is marked with a cross on the 3d ridge).

Eight pairs of ski boots lay along the tent sides (6 – from the internal side, 2 – from the external side). Seven valenoks lay from the sides closer to the tent center. There were crackers, brisket skin in the tent, and the brisket, partially cut into pieces, was found together with Kolevatov's Finnish knife at the tent side.

Outside the tent 2 lanterns were found, – one of them lay on top of the tent, and there was a snow layer under it. When Slobtsov, who had picked up the lantern, turned it on, it lit. The second lantern was found later on the stone ridge below the tent, – its position is indicated by Maslennikov on the scheme of the slope sounding. The position of the tent, cedar, victims (D – Dyatlov, C-Slobodin, K – Kolmogorova) are also seen there, as well as the borders of the stone ridges and the wood (three fir-trees and a curve dotted line is the border of the long-boled wood), the position of the mansiysky plague and distances between the main reference points are noted:

A bag with documents (including three running schedules of the group) and their marching diary were found at the tent side closer to the back wall. The notes were broken by «A newspaper sheet «The Evening Otorten» on February 1st, – on these grounds the rescuers understood unequivocally that the tragedy had happened at night on February 2. It was evident from the diary that before a radial exit to Mount Otorten the Dyatlov group had equipped a warehouse (a storage protected from animals and birds) in the Auspiya valley in order to lighten their backpacks for a radial exit (it was noted above about the warehouse detection).

One pair of skis was found outside the tent, – they didn't remember clearly, where it was (Sharavin said that the skis were stuck into snow at the tent entrance). In the picture of the tent excavation these two skis are visible, – they are stuck into snow near the tent. These skis were used as high racks for supporting the medial part of this tent at installation outside the wood zone, – as it is shown in the picture from the campaign of 1958 with I.Dyatlov's participation.

Such a way of fixing let them support the tent by a vertical effort in its centre and increased its wind stability by lateral control rods from the ridge-pole centre:

Installation of the Dyatlov group’s double tent in the mountain conditions of the campaign of 1958 along the Subpolar Ural by M.A.Axelrod's group, photo by P.I.Bartolomey.

On March 1 the Axelrod group and inspector Ivanov (who was appointed to plead the case instead of prosecutor Tempalov) arrived from Ivdel, and the helicopter took away the Dyatlov group’s things and tent by return flight. The Dyatlov group’s traces from the tent weren't studied seriously in the beginning, as at first the victims were being looked for. The investigation team and the searchers examined the traces, took some photos. The line of traces was lost already 50-100 m away below the tent, and only separate traces which had been heavily swept up by snow were found below. The searchers’ testimony about the condition of traces supplemented each other. Here is what they wrote down.

Slobtsov (in his report) states that:

«… In immediate proximity to the tent no traces were found. Approximately at the distance of 15–20 m from the tent, in the direction where subsequently the corpses were found, traces of a man, going from the tent, were visible on snow. And it was visible that these were traces of a person without footwear, or in valenoks. The traces stood out over the surrounding snow surface, as snow near the traces was blown out by the wind. Some slippers from different pairs were found near the tent in the wind direction, i.e. in that direction where there were human foot traces at the distance of 0,5–1 m; ski caps and other small subjects were also scattered… traces were left closely at first, side by side, and further the traces dispersed …»

It is possible that not all the Dyatlov group, but the girls above all used slippers as inlay for warming their ski boots, – writes G.K.Grigoryev, the correspondent of the Newspaper “The Ural worker”, in “Grigoryev’s worksheets” as the witness of search works. These slippers were also used in the tent at overnight stay as it was warmer for feet while setting them against the cold wall of the tent.

Karelin's testimony about the tent place and traces:

«…laying out of the tent above the wood border is the group’s mistake, their unwillingness to go down into the wood and then to rise back in order to go on the crust where movement is considerably facilitated … we saw clearly the traces of the running people on the mountain slope. At first there were 8–9 of them, then fewer, and soon they disappeared completely…»

Tchernyshov's testimony:

«…Starting from the tent at the distance of 30–40 m …clear, well distinguishable human foot traces were found. These traces extended by parallel lines close to each other, as though people went, clinging to each other. The lines of traces stretched in some kind of two directions, – we counted 6 or 7 pairs of traces in the direction from the tent downwards, into the hollow, and more left from them, at the distance of 20 m there were 2 more pairs of traces. Then these traces (2 and 6–7 pairs) got together in 30–40 m and didn't disperse any more. The traces disappeared on stone ridges, and below the stones they appeared again, and then were lost. The traces were well distinguishable. It was visible in some traces that a person went either barefooted, or in one cotton sock since toes were left printed. Owing to pecularities of winds traces are well preserved in mountains, and they are visible not in the form of deepenings, but in the form of eroded columns, – snow under traces is condensed, pressed and not blown, and round the trace snow is blown out. Under the influence of sunshine the snow trace hardens even more and remains intact the whole winter. Below all the traces one trace in a boot was visible. The heel and a sole part were very well printed, and the medium part wasn't printed. All the traces led in the direction of the wood which began on the right in the hollow. There a little bit later the corpses were found…».

Tempalov's testimony:

«Beneath the tent on the slope at the distance of 50–60 m from us I came across 8 pairs of human traces which I carefully examined, but they were deformed in view of winds and temperature fluctuations. I didn’t manage to determine the 9th trace (it is underlined – a comment) and it was lacking. I took photos of them. They went downward from the tent. The traces showed me that people walked at a normal pace down from the mountain. The traces were visible only on the 50th meter site, there were no more traces farther as the lower you go down from the mountain the more snow there is. At the bottom of the mountain a small river with the depth up to 70 sm flows as though from a ravine in which the snow depth reaches from 2 to 6 meters thick in places.

It is possible to notice that Slobtsov, Sharavin, Karelin Tchernyshev, Tempalov's testimony should be trusted, as they were the first who saw the traces, – their observation isn't distorted by change of the traces the next days (as well as by the «false» traces left by the searchers and disappearance of these traces because of aeration).

The difference in the traces, seen in the pictures, on different parts of the mountain should be also taken into consideration. In many respects the nature of traces was defined by snow depth and its condition, – it is different in different parts of the mountain. In some places snow cover was absolutely thin, – for example, on stone ridges. And in other places the snow depth was considerable – over 2 m. Sometimes, on thick snow, the traces were in the form of «platforms» (columns) made of condensed snow. For formation of such a trace snow should be pressed through on a firm crust with consolidation which also occurs even after load removal. Then deepening of a trace was swept up partially or completely by fresh snow, and later all fresh snow was blown off from the trace on the crust and the «platform» from the condensed snow was bared which looked like a sastrugus on a firm crust. At violation of these conditions the platforms of traces weren't formed or didn't remain on other parts of the mountain. There were traces-holes (dents) in some places. The heavy snowfall could destroy completely all the traces, but it didn't fall out for 25 days before arrival of the rescuers, as it was noted by Maslennikov. Therefore the traces remained. The existence of traces – «platforms» definitely states that before arrival of the rescuers 20–30 sm of fresh snow was blown off by the wind on top parts of the mountain. In the last pictures of the Dyatlov group one cannot see that dense crust on which Slobtsov and Sharavin walked to the tent and which is visible in the photo of the place of tent excavation.