I really enjoyed the article from N. Varsegov and N. Varsegova where they ask why a "Human Intelligence Collector" was assisting with the search for the missing hikers: https://dyatlovpass.com/shestopalov?rbid=1841
I lack the Russian military context needed to truly make sense of the material presented in the article. However, I did find a little information on Soviet Railway Brigades at Axis History Forum (https://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=228513
), including a link to an organisational chart.
My tentative conclusion is that:
- The initial six soldiers were sent to search, as five out of the six were sappers who could operate the mine detectors (being used as metal detectors) and they could be spared from the construction project at that point in time. The sixth was a rifleman from the commanding officer's unit.
- Senior Lieutenant Avenburg was sent in charge of the lower-ranked soldiers. Presumably he was a sapper himself, though this is not certain from the information presented.
- Lieutenant Colonel Shestopalov was sent because he could be spared from the railway construction at that time (he was not an engineer) and was trusted to liaise appropriately with the other parties present at the search. Perhaps it was usual to send someone of his rank on such a task, but since he seems to have been personally active in the search, it may be he had prior experience or was interested.
State resources are nearby and might be useful in a search operation ... I'm not convinced the presence of personnel from the Fifth Railway Brigade represents anything more than this. The Air Force contributed pilots and aircraft to the search, too. An obvious suggestion is that the Head of the Military Department of the Ural Polytechnic Institute, Aleksandr Vasilyevich Kondratyev, asked for military assistance.
Soldiers were rotated in and out to keep searching across March and April 1959. The publicly available documents suggest their activities were not a secret. The statements in the order book that personnel should be considered to be in Ivdel on business may just be the formula appropriate for that particular record, with more detailed information recorded elsewhere (perhaps still preserved in the documents not available to the public).
Lieutenant Colonel Shestopalov was a "human intelligence collector", which can also be translated as "military interrogator". This is a role focused on investigations inside
the military. Nothing in Maslennikov's or Grigoriev's notebooks suggest he or his subordinates were doing anything other than making a valuable contribution to the search.
It is odd that one of the orders to Shestopalov was dated 14 February 1959. Since the other dates visible in the document are all in March, maybe it was just a mistake - possibly when being typed up from the original record.