In 1967, Sverdlovsk writer and journalist Yuri Yarovoi (Russian: Юрий Яровой) published the novel Of the Highest Degree of Complexity, inspired by the incident. Yarovoi had been involved in the search for Dyatlov’s group and at the inquest as an official photographer during both the search and the initial stage of the investigation, and so had insight into the events. The book was written during the Soviet era when details of the accident were kept secret and Yarovoi avoided revealing anything beyond the official position and well-known facts. The book romanticised the accident and had a much more optimistic end than the real events – only the group leader was found deceased. Yarovoi’s colleagues say that he had alternative versions of the novel, but both were declined because of censorship. Since Yarovoi’s death in 1980, all his archives, including photos, diaries and manuscripts, have been lost.
Anatoly Gushchin (Russian: Анатолий Гущин) summarized his research in the book The Price of State Secrets Is Nine Lives (Цена гостайны – девять жизней, Sverdlovsk, 1990) Some researchers criticised the work for its concentration on the speculative theory of a Soviet secret weapon experiment, but its publication led to public discussion, stimulated by interest in the paranormal. Indeed, many of those who had remained silent for thirty years reported new facts about the accident. One of them was the former police officer, Lev Ivanov (Лев Иванов), who led the official inquest in 1959. In 1990, he published an article which included his admission that the investigation team had no rational explanation for the incident. He also stated that, after his team reported that they had seen flying spheres, he then received direct orders from high-ranking regional officials to dismiss this claim.
In 2000, a regional television company produced the documentary film The Mystery of Dyatlov Pass (Тайна перевала Дятлова). With the help of the film crew, a Yekaterinburg writer, Anna Matveyeva (Russian: Анна Матвеева), published a fiction/documentary novella of the same name. A large part of the book includes broad quotations from the official case, diaries of victims, interviews with searchers and other documentaries collected by the film-makers. The narrative line of the book details the everyday life and thoughts of a modern woman (an alter ego of the author herself) who attempts to resolve the case.
Despite its fictional narrative, Matveyeva’s book remains the largest source of documentary materials ever made available to the public regarding the incident. In addition, the pages of the case files and other documentaries (in photocopies and transcripts) are gradually being published on a web forum for enthusiastic researchers.
A Dyatlov Foundation was founded in 1999 at Yekaterinburg, with the help of Ural State Technical University, led by Yuri Kuntsevitch (Юрий Кунцевич). The foundation’s stated aim is to continue investigation of the case and to maintain the Dyatlov Museum to preserve the memory of the dead hikers.
On 1 July 2016, a memorial plaque was inaugurated in Solikamsk in Ural’s Perm Region, dedicated to Yuri Yudin (the sole survivor of the expedition group) who died in 2013.
The theory that an avalanche caused the hikers’ deaths, while initially popular, has since been questioned. Reviewing the sensationalist “Yeti” hypothesis (see below), American skeptic author Benjamin Radford suggests as more plausible:
“that the group woke up in a panic (…) and cut their way out the tent either because an avalanche had covered the entrance to their tent or because they were scared that an avalanche was imminent (…) (better to have a potentially repairable slit in a tent than risk being buried alive in it under tons of snow). They were poorly clothed because they had been sleeping, and ran to the safety of the nearby woods where trees would help slow oncoming snow. In the darkness of night they got separated into two or three groups; one group made a fire (hence the burned hands) while the others tried to return to the tent to recover their clothing, since the danger had apparently passed. But it was too cold, and they all froze to death before they could locate their tent in the darkness. At some point some of the clothes may have been recovered or swapped from the dead, but at any rate the group of four whose bodies were most severely damaged were caught in an avalanche and buried under 4 metres (13 ft) of snow (more than enough to account for the ‘compelling natural force’ the medical examiner described). Dubinina’s tongue was likely removed by scavengers and ordinary predation.”
Evidence contradicting the avalanche theory includes:
- The location of the incident did not have any obvious signs of an avalanche having taken place. An avalanche would have left certain patterns and debris distributed over a wide area. The bodies found within ten days of the event were covered with a very shallow layer of snow and, had there been an avalanche of sufficient strength to sweep away the second party, these bodies would have been swept away as well; this would have caused more serious and different injuries in the process and would have damaged the tree line.
- Over 100 expeditions to the region were held since the incident, and none of them ever reported conditions that might create an avalanche. A study of the area using up-to-date terrain-related physics revealed that the location was entirely unlikely for such an avalanche to have occurred. The “dangerous conditions” found in another nearby area (which had significantly steeper slopes and cornices) were observed in April and May when the snowfalls of winter were melting. During February, when the incident occurred, there were no such conditions.
- An analysis of the terrain, the slope and the incline indicates that even if there could have been a very specific avalanche that circumvents the other criticisms, its trajectory would have bypassed the tent. It had collapsed laterally but not horizontally.
- Dyatlov was an experienced skier and the much older Alexander Zolotaryov was studying for his Masters Certificate in ski instruction and mountain hiking. Neither of these two men would have been likely to camp anywhere in the path of a potential avalanche.
Another hypothesis popularised by Donnie Eichar’s 2013 book Dead Mountain is that wind going around Kholatsyakal Mountain created a Kármán vortex street, which can produce infrasound capable of inducing panic attacks in humans. According to Eichar’s theory, the infrasound generated by the wind as it passed over the top of the Holatchahl mountain was responsible for causing physical discomfort and mental distress in the hikers. Eichar claims that, because of their panic, the hikers were driven to leave the tent by whatever means necessary, and fled down the slope. By the time they were further down the hill, they would have been out of the infrasound’s path and would have regained their composure, but in the darkness would be unable to return to their shelter. The traumatic injuries suffered by three of the victims were the result of their stumbling over the ledge of a ravine in the darkness and landing on the rocks at the bottom.
Speculation exists that the campsite fell within the path of a Soviet parachute mine exercise. This theory alleges that the hikers, woken by loud explosions, fled the tent in a shoeless, shell shocked panic and found themselves unable to return for supply retrieval. After some members froze to death attempting to endure the bombardment, others commandeered their clothing only to be fatally injured by subsequent parachute mine concussions. There are indeed records of parachute mines being tested by the Soviet military in the area around the time the hikers were there. Parachute mines detonate while still in the air rather than upon striking the Earth’s surface and produce signature injuries similar to those experienced by the hikers: Heavy internal damage with comparably less external trauma. The theory coincides with reported sightings of glowing, orange orbs floating or falling in the sky within the general vicinity of the hikers, potentially military aircraft or descending parachute mines. This theory (among others) uses scavenging animals to explain Dubinina’s injuries. Some speculate the bodies were unnaturally manipulated due to characteristic livor mortis markings discovered during autopsy, as well as burns to hair and skin. Photographs of the tent allegedly show that it was apparently erected incorrectly, something the experienced hikers were unlikely to have done.
A similar theory alleges the testing of radiological weapons, and is partly based on the discovery of radioactivity on some of the clothing as well as the bodies being described by relatives as having orange skin and grey hair. However, radioactive dispersal would have affected all of the hikers and equipment instead of just some of it, and the skin and hair discoloration can be explained by a natural process of mummification after three months of exposure to the cold and winds. Furthermore, the initial suppression of files regarding the group’s disappearance by Soviet authorities is sometimes mentioned as evidence of a cover-up, but the concealment of information regarding domestic incidents was standard procedure in the USSR and therefore far from peculiar. And by the late 1980s, all Dyatlov files had been released in some manner.
International Science Times posited that the hikers’ deaths were caused by hypothermia, which can induce a behaviour known as paradoxical undressing in which hypothermic subjects remove their clothes in response to perceived feelings of burning warmth. It is undisputed that six of the nine hikers died of hypothermia. However, others in the group appear to have acquired additional clothing (from those who had already died) which suggests that they were of a sound enough mind to try to add layers.
The 2014 Discovery Channel special Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives explored the theory that the Dyatlov group was killed by a menk or Russian Yeti. The show begins with the premise that the skiers’ injuries were such that only a creature with superhuman strength could have caused them. The episode concluded with there being no solid evidence for its claims; however, in the interview with the two members of a search party who got on to the scene first, they claim that they saw footprints larger than those of a human and that those footprints were never included in an official Soviet government report, and additionally that after months of trying to gain access, a Russian documentary narrator Maria finally got access to a classified Soviet military document regarding the investigation of the missing hikers in which the start date of the investigation is 6 February, but the hikers were reported missing almost 10 days later on 15-16 February, which could indicate a Soviet military cover-up operation. The documentary also claims that the howl sound they’ve recorded during their cave and forest expedition does not belong to any known animal species.