Nine young hikers came to a mysterious end in the winter of 1959 on a frigid remote pass in the Ural mountains, launching Dyatlov Pass into the world lexicon and kicking off a search for the reasons how they died and why their bodies were found scattered around the area, some with horrific and baffling injuries, others with none, some in various stages of undress, all frozen to death. When conventional causes proved inconclusive, the strange and bizarre quickly emerged – UFOs, aliens, Yeti, radiation from a secret rocket test, secret heat ray weapon, poisoned alcohol, KGB killing, a vacuum bomb and more. None of those has been confirmed either, so a group of scientists went back to one of the conventional causes and revealed this week the most plausible scientific explanation for the Dyatov Pass incident.
“Here we show how a combination of irregular topography, a cut made in the slope to install the tent and the subsequent deposition of snow induced by strong katabatic winds contributed after a suitable time to the slab release, which caused severe non-fatal injuries, in agreement with the autopsy results.”
If you missed the clues (irregular topography, cut, snow, slab release), the authors of the study, published in the journal Communications, Earth & Environment, concluded that the Dyatlov Pass hikers were run over by a small avalanche which them the injuries and scattered them and their belongings, forcing their deaths by hypothermia.
Arguments against the avalanche theory, please.
A snow avalanche is not a new probable cause – in fact, it was one of the first proposed and first rejected. For one thing, there was no sign of an avalanche when rescuers finally arrived. Second, the slope was less than the minimum angle for an avalanche. Third, the hikers fled their tents in the middle of the night – not a typical avalanche time. Finally, not all of the injuries appeared to be of the type normally seen in avalanche victims.
Arguments for the slab avalanche, please.
Johan Gaume, head of the Snow and Avalanche Simulation Laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, and Alexander Puzrin, a researcher at the Institute for Geotechnical Engineering in Zurich, studied records from the time of the incident and then ran them through a digital avalanche model. A slab avalanche addressed the main “it’s not an avalanche” objections. The angle of the slope was steeper than reported and subsequent snowfalls reduced the pitch and also smoothed over the signs of an avalanche. While the cut in the slope was made during the day, extreme winds blew as much as a foot of snow above the highest tent, weighing it down enough to cause a break and a slab avalanche. Finally, because the hikers were asleep in a vertical position, the injuries they suffered would not have looked the same as those of people upright while hiking, skiing or running away. (Excellent drawings of the above can be seen in the study.)
Time for a “That’s it!” drumroll?
“In conclusion, our work shows the plausibility of a rather rare type of snow slab instabilities that could possibly explain the Dyatlov Pass incident. Yet, we do not explain nor address other controversial elements surrounding the investigation such as traces of radioactivity found on the victims’ garments, the behavior of the hikers after leaving the tent, locations and states of bodies, etc. While possible explanations are given in multiple published sources as well as by both the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, we believe that this will always remain an intrinsic part of the Dyatlov Pass Mystery.”
Gaume and Puzrin hedge their bets by using the word “plausibility” in their conclusion. Still, it seems to be the best argument for a slab avalanche cause for the Dyatlov Pass incident. Will it convince those hoping for aliens, Yeti or one of the other unconventional explanations? No drum roll needed here.