I posted this in the theory about the Yeti but I think this could be more appropriate here. In 1960 the USSR shot down an American U-2 Spy Plane right around Sverdlosk if I’m not mistaken. Who is to say that in 1959 there wasn’t a similar incident where an aircraft was shot down or crashed due to mechanical issues, either the Soviet Military didn’t know the plane crashed or they didn’t realize they shot it down and thought it had escaped or they weren’t sure where it crashed. The Americans send a rescue party to get the pilot, they get the pilot or the body of the pilot and leave only to encounter the hikers. During the cold war, having a bunch of American Special Forces soldiers running around the middle of the USSR might have escalated tensions a little too much and therefore they might have had orders to keep a very low profile. If at any point they ran across the hikers and the hikers reached the conclusion those were not soviet hikers but were in fact Americans that might explain Frame #17 from Thibeaux-Brignolle’s camera(After running into the hikers sometime in the morning or early afternoon of 1 Feb they were followed and one was accidently caught) and why the hikers made so little headway on their last day and why they pitched their tent where they did, knowing they cant outpace the threat so maybe if they acted like nothing happened and slowed down the Americans would race ahead of them as they might be in enough rush to not stop and they set up camp in the open in the hope of line of sight giving them advance warning or were afraid of going to the treeline.
The Americans cant leave the hikers alive because they are 1) witnesses to American troops conducting an operation in the middle of the soviet union and 2) 1 or 2 of the fittest of them could use the next day or two to rush back to civilization to warn the soviet authorities before the Americans can escape at which point flooding the region with helicopters and a division or two of troops would surely spell disaster for the American Troops. For the Americans it would be a kill or be killed situation since having American soldiers on Soviet soil would not be a good place to be for those soldiers if discovered. They wait until the hikers pitch a tent are already inside, when it gets dark they make their way to the camp, capture the two men outside and proceed to order the rest of the hikers to leave the tent. They leave the tent and grab their boots on the way out, at some point someone throws a punch when they are outside, the two men that were already outside are restrained at this point and only 4 of the 7 hikers inside the tent might have been in a position to resist, whatever happens punches are exchanged and the hikers are subdued when they are overwhelmed by sheer strength or someone fires a warning shot.
Hikers are then told to take off their boots which are then dumped in a pile in the tent and whoever has a jacket(Dyatlov) is told to take it off. The hikers are either not searched, or are allowed just enough to give them hope of survival but not enough to actually let them survive. If they went down to the treeline with a knife the attackers took it back after they were dead, the camera around Zolotaryov’s neck might have been a plant as well to cause confusion. They were send down the slope with one of them holding the flashlight found 450m down hill while one of the attackers was holding the second flashlight, both flashlights would be used to make sure all 9 hikers were making their way down the slope and none were circling back, at 450m they are ordered to drop the light and continue down the slope.
Expectations would have been succumbing to the elements within a few hours but most of the hikers proved resilient and the attackers had to go down and finish the job. At this point Rustem is dead, Yuri K and Yuri D are also dead, the 6 remaining hikers have split into two groups, one is centered around Zolotaryov(most experianced hiker and war experience in eastern front) who focuses on shelter, while the other group made up of Zina and Igor make their way back towards the tent. At some point the attackers catch Igor or Igor intentionally stays behind the give Zina a chance to run, he is brought down hard on his knees and restrained and eventually weakened enough to be left to die. Zina is weakened, scared and in a rush which is why when she passes by Rustem who is dead she doesn’t strip him of some clothes such as the shirts and socks at least. Eventually she slows down and is caught again where the baton injury might come into play if it was not acquired earlier in the night. She succumbs to the elements after that hit combined with the exhaustion of the previous several hours.
Now there are four remaining hikers and the attackers find them and deal with them, in the previous 20 years there have been two major wars with a third in its opening stages, so whoever it was would have had plenty of combat experience and might have experience with how to hurt people. They stun 3 of them with hits to the head but the fourth is hit a little too hard and was left unconscious. Kolevatov dies from the broken neck which leaves Zolotaryov and Lyuda, either they resisted the most, or for whatever reason angered the attackers and as a result suffered the injuries they did or could have been the last alive and suffered those injuries as counter measures.
Once those last 4 hikers are killed the attackers go back, cover their tracks and stage the scene, cut the tent and make sure all traces they were ever there are gone. They stage the scene in such a way as to point in 5 directions at once, a panicked egress from the tent(tent cut) but an orderly and seemingly calm walk down the slope and tent is almost orderly except for the boots. A knife being used at the cedar tree but not being found with any of the dead hikers is put back in the tent with the others. Flashlight being thrown down while on the decent from the slope but no one bother to pick up. Zolotaryov had a camera and a notepad, so if he had both it would have served as evidence that it wasn’t some one killing them it had to be an act of god since no sane killer would leave a camera and notepad behind, but they could have been planted. Take some clothes form Lyuda and put them on Zolotariov and Tibo while Tibo also had a second a watch from Yuri K and put it on Tibo. Throw in enough contradictory evidence and you end up with 60 years of discussion and likely a few more decades of speculation before interest dies down or some evidence emerges from government vaults or someone’s diary is found in an attic.
The Americans will not admit to this or acknowledge this because this would be a public relations nightmare and would also be a diplomatic relations nightmare. The Soviet Government would keep their mouths shut because an American aircraft crashed in the middle of the Soviet Union, the Americans Send SF team to rescue the pilot, the SF team killed the hikers and then escaped all before the Soviet Military knew what happened. For them to admit it would have been humiliating and made them look incompetent and the aircraft would not be missed easily since it would be a CIA Aircraft and they can cover this up real quick. Both sides have a reason not to talk and that would be why the Soviet authorities put such pressure to end the investigation quickly and incomplete. Once the bodies were found no one was scouring the area, and since 9 people died the authorities could order people to not go to the area while they search for the crash site.
This explains why the investigation was so obviously mismanaged, why the area was shut down for a long while after the tragedy and why everything is so quiet. No one wants to admit what happened because the Soviets can’t prove conclusively that the Americans did it and throwing accusations like that without at least some dead or captured Americans will only hurt them, and even if they can they wont want to admit that the Americans troops had free rain so deep into Soviet territory without anyone opposing them, the Americans wont admit it for obvious reasons so the conclusion the Soviet Authorities presented was that they died because Igor Dyatlov made a series of mistakes and died as a result of overwhelming force, which the hikers were not able to overcome while technically true it was not a real conclusion.
In 1960 a Soviet Pilot was shot down by his own side while trying to intercept the U-2 aircraft and no one knew he was dead aside from his family and close friends for over 30 years, when announced in the news paper for his actions it was never mentioned he died. If the Soviet Union covered up that they shot down their own aircraft by accident, they would definitely be willing to cover up being presented as fools for not knowing there was an aircraft spying on them, that it crashed, and that the Americans send a rescue team that got the pilot or the body of the pilot all before the Soviet Authorities knew anything was up as that would be humiliating for a lot of people in senior positions of leadership. Without proof the US will deny deny deny, without conclusive proof the Soviet citizens will think the government incompetent and likely still believe it was the soviet government that killed them.
If the hikers died during the night of the second or the early morning of the second, then the attackers would have a day of daylight to cover their tracks and then make their way from the region as a group or split into smaller less conspicuous groups. By the time anyone found them the Americans would be long gone.
This would explain all of the oddities around this case and the actions of the Soviet Authorities during the investigation and for the years after when they shut down the area for hikers. By the time anyone found out the Americans would be well outside of the area and under cover or had already found means to get out of the country.