On January 27, 1959, a gaggle of ten hikers consisting mainly of scholars from the Ural polytechnic , led by 23-year-old Igor Dyatlov, began on a 14-day expedition to Gorá Otorten, a mountain within the northern a part of the Soviet province of Sverdlovsk. At that point of year, such a route was considered very dangerous, with temperatures as low as -30 ° C, but all the members of the expedition were experienced skiers. just one of them, Yuri Yudin, decided to backtrack two days later. He never saw his companions again.
When the group didn’t return to the place of departure, the town of Vizhay, on the appointed date, a rescue team began to look for them. On 26 February, they found the heavily damaged tent on the slopes of Kholat Syakhl, which translates to “Mountain of Death,” about 20 km south of the expedition’s destination.
The young people’s belongings had been left behind. Further down the mountain, under an old Siberian cedar, they found two bodies dressed only in socks and underwear. Later, three other bodies, including Dyatlov’s, appeared between the tree and therefore the place where the shop was. that they had died of hypothermia while trying to return to the camp. Two months later, the four remaining bodies were discovered during a ravine under a thick layer of snow. Several of the deceased had serious injuries.What happened 60 years ago within the Urals is one among the good mysteries within the history of Russia.
The Soviet authorities investigated the case but closed it three months later, concluding that an “irresistible force of nature” had caused the hikers’ deaths. within the absence of survivors, the sequence of events for the night of February 1 to 2 has not been clear to the present day and has given rise to countless more or less fanciful theories, from the Yeti to secret military experiments, with the KGB. involved. Now, two avalanche experts have studied the mystery and believe they need solved it.
Johan Gaume, director of the Snow and Avalanche Simulation Laboratory (SLAB) at the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, had never heard of this story until a journalist from the “New York Times” called to ask him an expert opinion. The files on the case had just been revived by the Russian Prosecutor’s Office. I started writing equations and figures on my board, trying to know what could have happened in purely mechanical terms,” he recalls. the primary thing he deduced was that an avalanche took the group all of sudden while they slept within the tent. This theory, which is that the most plausible, was also exposed by the Russian Public Ministry after the investigation was reopened in 2019 at the request of the victims’ families.
But the shortage of evidence and therefore the existence of strange elements did not convince an outsized a part of Russian society.
Intrigued, Gaume contacted Russian professor Alexander Puzrin, an expert on landslides. Together they reviewed Soviet archives hospitable the general public , spoke with other scientists and experts on the incident, and developed analytical and numerical models to reconstruct the possible avalanche.
According to Gaume and Puzrin, this is often what happened in 1959. Hikers had dig the snowy side of the mountain to pitch their tent, but the avalanche didn’t occur until several hours later.One of the most reasons why the avalanche theory isn’t yet fully accepted is that the authorities haven’t explained how it happened,” says Game. Many points contradict that theory: First, the rescue team didn’t find any obvious evidence of an avalanche or its deposition. therefore the average angle of the slope over the tent site, but 30 °, wasn’t steep enough for an avalanche. Also, if an avalanche occurred, it had been triggered a minimum of nine hours after the cut was made on the slope. and eventually , the chest and skull injuries seen in some victims weren’t typical of avalanche victims.
In their research, published within the journal “Communications Earth & Environment”, Gaume and Puzrin plan to address these points. ‘We used data on snow friction and native topography to point out that alittle avalanche of slabs (which often form in windblown snow) could occur on a mild slope, leaving few traces. With the assistance of computer simulations, we show that the impact of a slab of snow can cause injuries almost like those observed, explains Gaume.
One of the foremost important factors within the tragedy was the presence of katabatic winds, that is, winds that carry air down a slope under the force of gravity. These winds could have carried the snow, which might then have accumulated uphill from the shop thanks to a selected terrain feature that the team members were unaware of. “If they hadn’t cut the slope, nothing would have happened. That was the initial trigger, but that alone wouldn’t are enough. The catabatic wind likely over excited the snow and allowed an additional load to slowly build up. At a particular point, a crack may have formed and spread, causing the snow plate to return loose, ”says Purina.
However, both scientists are cautious of their findings and make it clear that much of the incident remains a mystery. The truth, of course, is that no-one knows what happened that night. But we offer strong quantitative evidence that the avalanche theory is plausible, continues Puzrin.The two models developed for this study, an analytical one to estimate the time required to trigger an avalanche, and a numerical one to estimate the effect of avalanches on the physical body , are going to be wont to better understand natural avalanches and associated risks. Game and Puzrin’s work may be a tribute to Dyatlov’s team, which faced an “irresistible force” of nature.