The Unanswered Questions

Why did the tourists cut their way out of the tent?

This is probably one of the most confusing questions posed regarding this event. I suppose a better way of phrasing it would be: what scared these experienced and hardy adventurers so much that they had to get out in a hurry without putting on their clothes and shoes?

The tent that they were sleeping in was a design of Igor Dyatlov and belonged to the UPI sports club. It was basically two tents sewn together, with a partition that would have afforded Kolmogorova and Dubanina some privacy. The front of the tent had fasteners as opposed to a zipper like modern-day tents, and there was a sheet hung in front of the entrance to further insulate the tent. It probably took a bit of time to get out the front entrance once the fasteners were in place and the sheet was up. It stands to reason that, if they were in a hurry, they wouldn’t have time to undo the entrance – they would cut their way out. Some people suggest that the tourists would never have cut intentional holes in the tarpaulin because it would have meant certain death, but this isn’t necessarily true. The tent got holes all the time; the tourists simply patched them up. Holes in the tent weren’t as big of a deal as some people make them out to be. The big question here is why they needed to get out of the tent in a  hurry. It’s a question that no one has found an acceptable answer to. We are left perpetually wondering.

Why was Lyudmila Dubanina missing her tongue and oral cavity?

Another question with plenty of speculation. Not only was Dubanina’s tongue missing, but her entire oral cavity was pretty much gone. All the muscles and the floor of her mouth, just gone. The medical examiner’s report was strangely vague on the matter. It did not say that the tongue was torn out, surgically removed, eaten by animals, or bitten off by the tourist herself. It simply says that the tongue and muscles of the oral cavity were gone.

A lot of people chalk this strange trauma up to the work of animals. A possibility, I suppose, but it seems unlikely that an animal would tear up the inside of her mouth so completely but leave the rest of her more or less intact. Also, it was mentioned that there was coagulated blood in her stomach, which suggests that she was alive when her tongue and associated muscles were removed.

Another theory posits that micro-organisms in the creek where her body was discovered were to blame for the lack of tongue and oral cavity. If this were the case, why wasn’t anyone else affected thus? Also, it is unlikely that there was much micro-organism activity in the frozen creek.

Those who believe the KGB or military involvement theories suppose that her tongue was ripped out, as if she was being tortured. Those who knew Dubanina reported that she had quite a mouth on her; she was outspoken and blunt, sometimes annoying or even angering others. Some people believed that she talked too much and the spies, KGB officials, or the military tortured her by removing her tongue, possibly surgically.

Why did the group split up?

Two of the tourists – Krivonischenko and Doroshenko – were found under the cedar tree. Three – Dyatlov, Kolmogorova, and Slobodin – were found on the slope of Elevation 1079. And four – Kolevatov, Dubanina, Zolotarev, and Thibeaux-Brignolles – were found in the ravine. So what happened to make them split up when they should have been sticking together for a better chance of survival?

One theory posits that they all made it down to the cedar tree except for Slobodin, who had fallen behind and then passed out, unconscious. This theory is decently sound, because Slobodin was found along the slope between the tent and the tree. There was a layer of ice underneath his body when it was found, which indicates that his body was still warm enough to melt the snow beneath him when he fell, which means he wasn’t suffering from hypothermia yet. Upon noticing that Slobodin wasn’t with them, Dyatlov went back to search for him but didn’t make it, succumbing to hypothermia. When Dyatlov didn’t return, Kolmogorova went looking for him and she, too, fell victim to the elements. Back at the tree, the others realized that the fire wasn’t enough to keep them warm. Kolevatov, Zolotarev, Dubanina, and Thibeaux-Brignolles decided to head down to the ravine, where the walls of snow would protect them from the wind and where they could build a snow shelter. Krivonischenko and Doroshenko stayed behind and maintained the fire in case Dyatlov, Kolmogorova, and Slobodin returned. While maintaining the fire, the hypothermia really began to set in and they put their hands and feet too close to the fire, which resulted in burns that they couldn’t feel due to the hypothermia. Eventually they succumbed to the cold. Somehow Dubanina, Thibeaux-Brignolles, and Zolotarev got injured. Perhaps it happened in the ravine, because they most likely would not have been able to climb down with their injuries. In any case, Kolevatov returned to the cedar tree to check on Krivonischenko and Doroshenko. Upon finding them dead, he stripped them of whatever clothes he could, laid them respectfully side by side – the way they were found by the search team weeks later – and went back to the ravine to distribute the clothes he’d acquired among his remaining friends. There in the ravine, Dubanina, Zolotarev, and Thibeaux-Brignolles succumbed to their injuries, and Kolevatov to hypothermia. This is a fairly sound explanation, except that Slobodin was found to be heading towards camp, not away from it.

Another theory suggests that Slobodin didn’t fall behind, and that he, Dyatlov, and Kolmogorova made for the tent together and succumbed at different intervals. Except, if this were the case, why was Slobodin’s body still warm when he fell but not Dyatlov or Kolmogorova? And how did Slobodin’s skull get injured? And where did the hand-to-hand fighting wounds on Dyatlov and Slobodin come from? Were they fighting each other? Did Dyatlov knock Slobodin unconscious and leave him to die in the snow? And none of these theories explain how Dubanina, Thibeaux-Brignolles, and Zolotarev came by their severe injuries.

Why was it reported that the tourists’ skin was strangely tanned and their hair had turned white?

Many people reported that, at the tourists’ funerals, their skin had an unnatural orange tan and that their hair had turned white.

One explanation for their strange tan is the sun. Somebody who spends a great deal of time outside, particularly in the snow where light is reflected, gets a tan. But do dead bodies tan? When a body dies, the cells don’t immediately stop. Metabolism slows down and stops over a short period of time. Tanning involves production of melanin in cells in the skin, and so it would probably continue for a little while after death. But would it continue long enough to produce the unhealthy orange look so many people reported? Probably not. But the orange-ness of the bodies could be an exaggeration. There are no color photographs of the bodies and so we can only rely on the statements of people who were already spooked and looking for something unnatural in the deaths. Or maybe the orange look was due to excess makeup caked on to try and make the corpses look like they hadn’t been out on the frozen taiga for weeks. Who knows?

As for the white hair, it is impossible for a strand of hair to naturally turn white. Hair must grow out white; a black hair does not suddenly turn white without the presence of a chemical or gas of some kind. The whiteness of their hair could, like the tan, be an exaggeration. Otherwise one must look into the possibility that sort of chemical was present in some form or another that could change the composition of the hair.

Why were Kolevatov and Zolotarev buried separately from the others?

This has never been satisfactorily explained, at least in my opinion. Zolotarev and Kolevatov were buried apart from the other seven tourists who perished on Elevation 1079. Not just apart, but in an entirely different cemetery. Some people claim that this is proof of Zolotarev and Kolevatov’s involvement with the KGB, but this has never been proven.

Why did seven Soviet Union officials get fired right after the event? 

It was reported that seven major Soviet officials were sacked just a few days after the discovery of the first bodies. I don’t know if this is an exaggeration or even if it’s true at all, as I can’t find any official documents regarding it. Even if it is true that seven officials were fired, it is impossible to know if they lost their jobs because of the Dyatlov incident or if it was just a coincidence.

Why was the area off limits to tourists for the following three years?

The Soviet Union made the whole area of Elevation 1079 off limits for three years following the Dyatlov incident. Though there could be a sinister reason behind this, I choose to believe the most obvious of answers: they didn’t want another accident. I mentioned before that the Urals were absolutely crawling with ski tourists – this was the great “thaw” after all – and they had gotten so much crap about not being able to come up with an acceptable answer regarding the Dyatlov case that they probably didn’t want to risk anything else happening.

Why were the official documents classified until the 1990s? 

Let’s face it: the Soviet Union’s favorite thing to do was keep secrets. They probably kept the most mundane things a secret. Perhaps they really were hiding something incredibly damning in the files. Maybe they still are, as some believe that not all of the case files were released in the nineties. Or maybe they were just being overly-cautious and overly-secretive.

Why did the Soviet Union try to keep the funerals from becoming a big affair? 

Some people claim that the government didn’t want people attending the funerals because they didn’t want people to uncover whatever secret they were hiding. Or perhaps they were just embarrassed that they couldn’t find out what had happened and wanted to sweep the whole unpleasant affair under the proverbial rug. In any case, it’s true that the authorities tried to keep the funerals quiet. Initially they wanted to bury the tourists out on the mountain where they had died, but the families of the deceased put up such a fuss that eventually the bodies were returned to Sverdlovsk for burial. Yuri Kuntsevitch, a good friend of Dyatlov’s who later founded the Dyatlov Foundation, attended the main funeral for the hikers. He later claimed to have seen what he believed to be several undercover policeman and possibly KGB agents doing crowd control there.

Why was a ski pole found broken at the site?

A ski pole was found in the tent, broken. It appeared to have been broken intentionally. The tourists did not have any extra ski poles, so it stands to reason that they would not intentionally break one of their much-needed ski poles. There has been no satisfactory explanation for this.

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