The photo below depicts the ‘Dyatlov group’, a group of nine hikers who set out on a winter expedition across the mountainous region in Siberia. This adventure would become their last, as all of them died under mysterious circumstances.
Despite photographs and journal entries that were regularly taken by the hikers, the case remains unsolved for more than 60 years.
Although the official investigation ruled that “the cause of death was an unknown compelling force which the hikers were unable to overcome”, the ambiguity of the official conclusion, the multiple mistakes made by investigators and the numerous inexplicable facts about the circumstances of the tragedy triggered dozens of conspiracy theories. Here are three of the most popular:
In 1959, the world was in the midst of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. Pervasive secrecy surrounding every aspect of life in the Soviet Union prevailed in the country, as did the paranoia of omnipresent spy games. What if this anxiety wasn’t as groundless as it might seem today?
Some think it wasn’t. A group of authors, writing under the name of Alexey Rakitin, believe the KGB, foreign spies (most likely the CIA) and Soviet counterintelligence were involved in the fatal incident.
According to this theory, the hikers were undercover KGB officers whose counterintelligence mission was disguised as a hiking mission and designed to derail an operation of foreign spies in the USSR. Alternatively, the authors hypothesize that one of the hikers could have been a traitor who planned to use the genuine expedition to leak secret information to foreign intelligence.
However far-fetched this theory might appear, it is not completely groundless. Three separate items of clothing discovered on the bodies of the deceased hikers at the scene of the tragedy were found to be radioactive.
“The clothes were contaminated as radioactive dust fell from the atmosphere, or the clothes were susceptible to contamination when in contact with radioactive substances,” says the official report, leaving room for interpretation.
Proponents of the “spy games” theory believe that the key to the deadly mystery lies in the fact that two hikers, Georgy Krivonischenko and Rustem Slobodin, were employed in the city of Chelyabinsk-40 (today known as Ozersk), where weapons-grade plutonium was produced during the Cold War.
This would explain the contamination of some of the clothes found at the scene of the tragedy and, simultaneously, lay the groundwork for a potential intelligence-related operation (or crime) that resulted in the deaths of nine people and an elaborate cover-up by orchestrated by the KGB.
Another popular theory states that the hikers fell victim to indigenous people, whose “sacred mountain” they had desecrated, intentionally or not.
When the bodies of the hikers were discovered, investigators initially suspected it could have been a mass murder perpetrated by the Mansi people, a local ethnic group of mostly hunters whose settlement lay some 100 km away from the scene of the tragedy.
Yet, during the latter stages of the investigation, it was ruled out.
“The investigation did not establish the presence of any other people except for the members of the Dyatlov group in the area of “the height 1,079” (as the area was referred to back then) on February 1 or 2, 1959. It was also established that the Mansi people living 80-100 km from this place were friendly to the Russians, providing tourists with accommodation, assistance, etc. The place where the group died is considered unsuitable for hunting and reindeer herding in the winter,” said the official report terminating the investigation.
Although official investigators excluded the Mansi people from the list of suspects, some conspiracy theories placed them in the center of this mysterious tragedy. In 2019, Anatoly Stepochkin, a resident of the area, claimed on national TV that he had a confession of a local Mansi man who said it was his people who had killed the hikers.
“Tourists looted our Holy place. When shamans found out about it, they called for hunters to track them down. When the members of the Dyatlov group went to bed, shamans went to the tent and bewitched the hikers. After some time, they were all dead. If they did us wrong, we answered with evil," the unnamed Mansi person was said to confess to Stepochkin.
Although this TV “confession” did not reopen the investigation, the “shamanic black magic” theory fascinated many of the Dyatlov incident enthusiasts.
This photo, often referred to as the “frame №34”, was discarded from the case file, because of its poor quality. Proponents of the UFO theory insist it should have never been discarded, as it was the only way to uncover the truth about the Dyatlov Pass incident.
In 2019, journalists interviewed Boris Sychev, a member of the search team, whose task at the time was to locate the remaining bodies of the deceased hikers. The man says that the search team witnessed an unusual phenomenon that they called “a fireball”.
“We saw a fireball floating in the sky near the crossing. It was similar to the lunar disk, but it wasn’t the Moon. This fireball was bigger in diameter. It departed from the crossing and floated away from us. We did not observe bright glowing. And then it just disappeared over the horizon. We were all perplexed,” Sychev is quoted as saying.
Many conspiracy theorists believe that the numbers of sighting accounts of such “fireballs” or “light balls” were intentionally underreported either because of the investigators’ inability to explain them or because of some actual UFO-related conspiracy.
Proponents of the theory believe that these “fireballs” could have caused hikers’ deaths by emitting a beam of unspecified energy towards them. Curiously, one of the most notable advocates of this theory is former Soviet public prosecutor Lev Ivanov.
Not every extraterrestrial theory insists a UFO is responsible for the deaths at the Dyatlov Pass. Some people believe meteorites could have caused a similar phenomenon (and a deadly impact on humans) or, alternatively, test launches of some secret rocket by the Soviet military.
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