Why would nine very experienced (despite their young ages) outdoorsmen of sound body of mind flee their tent in the middle of the night leaving their gear and supplies behind? And what the hell happened to them once they reached the forest? I have spent many hours and countless sleepless nights contemplating what might have terrified them so badly. I have never believed in the ‘Alien’ theory nor do I believe they were attacked by animals/yeti/locals/escaped prisoners/Soviet military etc. The evidence is just not there. All evidence seems to point that no one else was there since the only footprints were those of the group. I also do not believe that they attacked each other. From everything I have read this was a tight harmonious group with an ‘All for one – one for all – leave no one behind’ mentality who would literally give the shirts off their back to help one another. I also do not believe they were under the influence of alcohol or hallucinogenic drugs. They undertook this expedition to get their hiking certification and took it seriously. They were not there to party! So what happened? A meteor air burst! Similar to the 1908 Tunguska event but on a much smaller scale. More on the order of the 2013 Chelyabinsk event. Remember the hikers 50km south of the Dyatlov group who saw 3 strange orange orbs in the sky that night? Many have thought that these sightings had to have been either UFO’s or missiles but I believe they saw 3 meteors (or more likely one meteor that had fragmented into three pieces upon entry into the atmosphere). They would have been extremely bright and have been visible for hundreds of miles.
Here is my timeline of the events of February 1, 1959:
It is late in the day and the sun will be setting soon. The group has been hiking and skiing all day. Bad weather has caused them to become disoriented. They have missed the pass and by the time they realize their mistake it is too late in the day to turn back and reach their planned campsite. They are left on the slope with two options. Either hike down 1.5 km to a forest which would provide them with shelter from the fierce winds and elements or set up camp right where they are. They decide on the latter, not wanting to lose the altitude they have gained or they were simply tired and decided to practice some open air camping. Dyatlov assesses the grade of the slope and determines the risk of avalanche is low so up comes the tent. They make their way inside but do not assemble their stove. Maybe they felt they didn’t need it. That candles, sleeping bags and their combined body heat would be enough to keep them warm, or maybe there was simply nothing around them on the open slope to use as firewood. In any case, they settle down and eat a meal together. What they need now most of all is sleep to recuperate from their grueling day but they won’t get it. Right before bedtime four group members, Zolotaryov, Dubinina, Thibeaux-Brignolle (a.k.a. TiBo) and Kolevatov leave the tent for a call of nature. They are better dressed than the others because they had planned to go outside. Once outside they see it. A large and extremely bright orb coming directly towards them! Zolotaryov raises his camera to take a picture and just as he snaps the photo the meteor explodes over their heads (You can see the tops of the heads of the other three at the bottom of the photo). Zolotaryov, who is holding the camera with his two arms extended in front of him, barely has time to turn slightly left when he is hit with the full force of the air burst’s resulting shockwave. His chest and the right side of his ribs are crushed. Additionally, because he was looking directly at the explosion, the shockwave ruptures the membrane surrounding his eyes, causing the fluids to leak out, blinding him instantly. Dubinina is also staring at the meteor with her hands covering her mouth in shock. She is transfixed by this, frozen like a deer in the headlights. She doesn’t turn away from the explosion and the shockwave’s impact is even more devastating to her, hitting her head on in the chest and face. The force of the impact crushes her ribs on both sides as well as crushing her nose and rupturing her eyeball membranes. In horror she bites off a chunk (not all) of her tongue, swallowing a good amount of blood as per the autopsy report.
It is worth pointing out here that one of the big mysteries and points of contention are how Zolotaryov and Dubinina suffered their broken chest and ribs. It was estimated that the force involved would have been similar to a car crash but since none of the surrounding soft tissue was damaged it excludes the possibility that they were in a crash or beaten with a blunt object. What exactly is an air burst and how does it kill? According to a Reddit post “In an explosion, lets say a non-nuclear bomb while ignoring everything except blast effects, you have a very small volume expanding at a velocity far greater than the speed of sound. This pushes the air out of the way, which causes piston heating and a high pressure region at the front of the shock. This high pressure region is what "hits" you and sweeps drag-sensitive targets away. However for an animal it needs to be quite a huge shock, or you need to be very close for this to kill you.”
I believe the Chelyabinsk air burst hit with a force of 1-2 PSI (Wind speeds: 38-70 MPH)* resulting in window glass shattering and light injuries from fragments occurring while the Tunguska event hit with a force of 20+ PSI (wind speeds: 502 MPH). I believe the Dyatlov group was hit with something in the middle, around 3-5 PSI (wind speeds: 102-163 MPH – car crash speed!) which would result in structures collapsing and serious, even fatal injuries occurring. This, IMHO is the most logical explanation for how the injuries occurred.
* All stats courtesy of the CDC
Back to the other two outside the tent. They have also been staring at the incoming object but they realize this is an attack and do what they were trained to do in such instances: Duck and cover! TiBo falls to the ground in the fetal position and manages to turn away just before the shockwave hits, sparing his chest and eyes but unfortunately is struck on the side of his head and on his right forearm by shrapnel, resulting in a fractured skull and haemorrhage to his arm. Kolevatov manages to turn around and fall to his knees but is struck with a small piece of shrapnel behind the left ear. It is not enough to cause a skull fracture but it is enough, in combination with the shockwave, to violently snap his neck forward and deform it. Not surprisingly all four are rendered unconscious.
Now to the five remaining members inside the tent. They are getting ready for bed and have removed their parkas and boots (but not all their clothes as it is still cold in the tent). Suddenly, without warning, they hear a massive explosion and a split second later the shockwave hits, collapsing the tent canvas on top of them. The shockwave also triggers a small loose snow avalanche which partially buries the tent. The heavy canvas of the tent shell has managed to absorb and deflect much of the shockwaves’ energy, sparing them the devastating injuries of their friends outside. But they have not escaped unscathed. The percussion blast would have left them all with concussions and a loud, deafening ringing in their ears. In addition, Komolgorova (a.k.a. Zina), who is lying on her side in the tent directly underneath the horizontal tent pole that keeps it up, is struck on the hip when the tent is blown down, resulting in an injury described as having been hit with a baton.
A few moments later, once they had regained their wits, they assume they are under attack. With the collapsed tent canvas and snow pushing on top of them, they are unable to find the door and someone cuts the canvas with a knife so allowing them to escape. Once outside they see their friends in real bad shape and in dire straits and this confirms to them that the attack was real and they must be the targets since there is nothing and no one else around on the wide open slope. Why did they conclude this had to be an attack? Well, for one even the residents of Chelyabinsk initially thought they were under attack from terrorists so it is not a stretch to see how they could mistake a meteor air burst for a missile or bomb. Remember, this was 1959. The cold war had been raging for over a decade at this point. These young adults would have been brainwashed since youth with propaganda that the ‘evil west’ was out to get them. In their minds the threat was real. Now back to the events. Dyatlov has concluded that they had been attacked and realized they were sitting ducks on the open slope. Fearing that whoever attacked them would be returning to finish the job he decides that they are not safe in their present location and must leave the tent and head for the perceived safety of the forest immediately! They check the four injured for pulses and they all still have one (barely). Their mentality is to leave no one behind and cannot justify leaving their injured friends behind to die so four people each grab an injured person, propping them up on their feet and wrapping an arm around their neck. They are led down the slope by a fifth member with a flashlight (probably Zina, who has an injured hip and cannot support the body weight of another). This was not a mad, crazed dash to the tree line. Investigators determined that by looking at their tracks they had been walking at a normal pace. It would have been very hard to move fast if they were supporting the body weight of another. They descend 500m, suffering cuts, bruises and abrasions to their ankles and lower legs. Some have theorized that they were shackled by their ankles at some point, causing said injuries but I believe they are the result of walking through deep snow and sharp ice without proper footwear. 500m down, the flashlight dies, either from dead battery or not being able to function in the frigid temperatures anymore so it is discarded. It is at this point that the snow pack becomes much harder and they are all able to slide on their backs most of the way down the steep slope to the edge of the forest.
Once having reached the tree line, Dyatlov needs someone to start a fire and act as a lookout while the other four each grab a body and descend further into the forest in search of a suitable location to construct a shelter. The obvious choice would be Zina due to her injured hip but Dyatlov doesn’t want a woman to have to face their attackers so he asks her if she is able to carry a body. Her injury is painful but not crippling so she says she can. Zina is one tough cookie. On a previous excursion she took a viper bite to the leg and despite being in serious pain, she refuses to lighten the load on her back so as not to be a burden to others. She seems to have an innate ability to ignore pain and focus on the task at hand. Dyatlov, confident that she can continue on, delegates the tasks to Doroshenko, who is the tallest and most physically imposing of the group. Doroshenko, now alone, starts a small fire with the intent of turning it into a roaring bonfire. Once the fire is going strong enough to be left unattended for a couple of minutes, he then focuses on his other task: being a lookout. He sees a large cedar tree close to the fire and climbs it, not in the goal of escaping from something or in search of firewood but to see if he can spot the tent and to see if anyone was there or descending the mountain after them. He climbs to an elevation of 5m. He can see the tent but his view is obstructed by a branch. When he tries to push the branch aside he loses his grip and takes a bad fall to the ground below. His injuries are not fatal but he is knocked out. With no one left to tend to the fire, it slowly dies.
Meanwhile, the remaining group has descended 75m into the forest when they come across a ravine that seems well protected from the wind. They are unaware that there is a small creek running through the ravine because it is covered in feet of snow. It is in this location that they decide to dig a snow den for shelter but they have no shovels or any digging tools so they use their bare hands to punch and dig through the hard snow and ice. It is here that the four conscious group members, Dyatlov, Zina, Slobodin and Krivonischenko (a.k.a. Georgy) suffer the injuries to their knuckles that everyone assumes were caused during a fistfight. A rotation is established here. Three people punch and dig in the snow while another cuts evergreen branches to serve as insulation in the den to keep the bodies off the snow. They all take turns until Georgy, poorly dressed and almost completely frozen by this point, cannot continue. Dyatlov tells him to return to the fire to warm up. He does so, only to find barely any fire left and Doroshenko by the cedar tree dying. He no longer has any feeling in his hands or legs and is in agonizing pain. Out of sheer desperation he grabs a smoldering log from the fire pit and presses it against his frozen leg, suffering burns to both areas. This backfires and he is in even more pain than before. He crawls over to Doroshenko’s dying body and lies next to him for body heat but it is too late and the pain is too severe. In his final conscious act he bites the back of his hand off in agony and passes out from the pain. Both he and Doroshenko die of hypothermia. They are the first to go.
Back at the den the digging is complete and evergreen branches have been laid across the floor. On top of the branches they place ripped clothes and belongings to make four seats. Zolotaryov, Dubinina and TiBo are brought into the den. When they try to move Kolevatov, he miraculously regains consciousness. Despite a serious neck injury he is able to walk and talk. Dyatlov then leads them back to the fire to warm up, only to discover no fire and their two friends dead. At this point it is decided that their only hope is to return to the tent to fetch their cold weather gear. Kolevatov is too injured to attempt the hike so Dyatlov tells him to return to the den and tend to the injured. Dyatlov, Zina and Slobodin will go to the tent and return at first light with clothes and supplies. Before returning to the den, Kolevatov tries to remove clothing from the deceased. He turns the body of Georgy over to try and remove his pants but they are frozen so he cuts them open with a knife, leaving straight sharp cuts along Georgy’s leg and thigh. He returns to the den and places Georgy’s pants on Dubinina. He then tries to grab Zolotaryov, maybe in an attempt to place clothing on him as well when suddenly the floor or wall of the den collapses, plunging all four into the icy creek below. The fall, in combination with the frigid waters and their already compromised condition, finish them off. The creek is on a steep slope, and the bodies either roll or are carried downstream by the water for approx. 10m before coming to their final resting place above a rock ledge. Dubinina actually falls over the ledge, with her body and head leaning up against it. She is found with her mouth open and water running through it. I believe that either micro organisms, fish or small animals, attracted by the smell of blood on her bitten-off tongue, eat the rest of it over the next three months.
Finally, back to the trio attempting to return to the tent. They are fighting severe hypothermia and extreme exhaustion by this point. Using the cedar tree as a starting point, the trio walk 300m together until Dyatlov collapses face first. Zina, who I believe has a romantic interest in Dyatlov, frantically tries to revive him. She turns him over onto his back and unbuttons his jacket either to check for a heartbeat or to perform CPR but it’s too late, he dies of hypothermia. She then clasps both of his hands in hers, close to his chest and kisses him goodbye. Zina and Slobodin continue uphill for 180m. Slobodin can hardly keep himself on his feet, falling down face first several times, each time hitting the side of his head because he can no longer brace his fall with his arms. Finally he falls for the last time and does not get up. Zina does not try to revive him. Maybe she doesn’t feel the same affection for him. Maybe she realized it is futile and a waste of energy. Most likely she is so far gone herself that she doesn’t care. She is likely dead on her feet at this point but heroically she continues on alone another 150m uphill until it is all too much. She collapses and expires. She is the last to die.
In conclusion, I believe this is a simple case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Zolotaryov, Dubinina and TiBo were doomed as soon as the shockwave hit, but this story could have had survivors had the remaining six stayed at the tent. Unfortunately, Dyatlov, who is battling a brain injury and is not thinking clearly as a result, misidentifies the threat and dooms the rest of the group by leaving the campsite ill prepared.