Real image from over 60 years ago taken during the search for the missing tourists who perished in the Dyatlov Pass incident. Credit:

Here’s What Science Has to Say About the Mysterious Dyatlov Pass Incident

This study proves one of the main theories but it still does not explain some of the stranger circumstances of the incident.

Sooner or later, science will find an answer to all our questions. Scientists from Switzerland created a two-dimensional computer model to solve one of the most tragic mysteries of recent Russian history – the Dyatlov Pass incident which took the lives of an entire tourist group in the Northern Urals in 1959.

Scientists Johan Gaume and Alexander Puzrin presented the results of their research work in the journal Communications Earth & Environment.

The official investigation from more than 60 years ago almost immediately expressed the version that the members of the Dyatlov group died due to an avalanche, but the rescue team, which arrived at the scene 26 days after the incident, did not find direct confirmation of this hypothesis. 

Dyatlov's group photographed at the back of a truck. Credit: Vice
Dyatlov’s group photographed at the back of a truck. Credit: Vice

For example, they easily found a ski tent covered with snow, and the slope angle near it averaged 23 degrees, which is much lower than the 30-degree slope required for a large avalanche. In addition, the avalanche should have descended immediately after people dug in the snow to level the tent site. 

But, according to the calculations of scientists from Switzerland, this happened only after about 9-13 hours. Having violated the top layer of snow, tourists from the Dyatlov group launched a deadly countdown.

The authors of the study believe that skiers died when an avalanche came down from a snow slab, that is, a dense layer of snow lying on a weaker layer. A snow slab can come off a slope less than 30 degrees. The descent of a slab of snow from a weak layer can be compared to two books lying in the palm of your hand: if you tilt them, the top book will fall, reaching a critical angle of inclination. 

This graph shows the dynamics of a snow slab avalance together with the damage it could cause on a human body depending on the amount of snow. Credit: Gaume/Puzrin
This graph shows the dynamics of a snow slab avalanche together with the damage it could cause to a human body depending on the amount of snow. Credit: Gaume/Puzrin

In addition, scientists believe that what happened was possible because of the downwind, which continued to drive snow above the tent, increasing the load on the upper layer of snow.

On the night of February 2, 1959, when nine members of the Dyatlov group were sleeping all together in one tent, a relatively small snow slab came down. Its dimensions, according to modeling, were approximately five by five meters. Almost a month after the Dyatlov Pass incident, there were no traces of it.

The authors of the work also performed numerical simulations of the injuries that people could get from such an avalanche. To do this, they used data from automobile crash tests of the 1970s, when corpses were used instead of dummies. The model confirmed that such an avalanche would not kill people, but they would receive serious injuries.

Scientists concluded that the tourists survived the first snowmelt and were able to get out of the tent, cutting it from the inside, despite the injuries. After that, the group members, many without outer clothing, moved away from the tent in search of a spare set of supplies hidden in the forest. 

Johan Gaume admitted that Dyatlov’s group feared a second avalanche. At that moment, according to various sources, the air temperature ranged from minus 25 to minus 40–45 degrees. As a result, people died within hours of the avalanche.

The main reconstruction of the Dyatlov Pass incident avalanche and the position of the tent in the snow. Credit: Gaume/Puzrin
The main reconstruction of the Dyatlov Pass incident avalanche and the position of the tent in the snow. Credit: Gaume/Puzrin

This theory explains the Dyatlov Pass incident for the most part but it has not yet been fully accepted as correct.  After all, this study was only limited to the mechanism of the avalanche and did not try to explain other strange circumstances of the incident, such as traces of radioactivity on people’s clothes and the behavior of tourists after the snow melted.

As you can see, there are enough mysterious facts surrounding the incident and I believe that there will be more research in the near future. The whole story can easily be considered part of Russian folklore now as there are countless theories that range from Russian radioactive superweapon tests to Yeti attacks.

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Andrews, R. G. (2021, January 28). Has science solved one of history’s greatest adventure mysteries?
Carlier, R. (2021, January 28). Quand la science permet d’explorer un mystère russe vieux de 60 ans.
Dockrill, P. (n.d.). The Tragic Mystery of The Dyatlov Pass Incident Has a New Scientific Explanation.
Gaume, J., & Puzrin, A. (2021, January 28). Mechanisms of slab avalanche release and impact in the Dyatlov Pass incident in 1959.
A New Take on an Old Mystery.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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