The deaths of nine hikers in the Ural Mountains of Siberia in February, 1959, endures as one the world’s most bizarre mysteries. The official explanation at the time was that their deaths were caused by an extraordinary force. Exactly what that means was never fully explained. As the hikers were found, autopsies were performed which revealed many disturbing facts and do not match the official explanation. The remains of the tragic hikers were buried at the direction of party officials without much or any input from their parents. Almost from the start, Moscow stepped in and gave orders that were to be followed strictly with no deviation. The official explanation still stands today but is that what really happened? Or was there a darker and more sinister reason for their shocking deaths?
Author and journalist Svetlana Oss has taken another look at the case to see what really did happen on the night of February 1, 1959. There are no conspiracy theories here, her work is based on official records, statements from officials involved in the investigation and the diaries kept by the hikers up until their last days. After reconstructing how the group was formed, the retraces their steps along the way to the Ural mountains. And it is here that things take a sharp turn. To be clear, no one knows exactly what did happen to force the hikers out of their tent. What is known is that they exited in a nearly orderly fashion and walked in the same direction. And it appears from footprints and other evidence that they were attempting to make their way back to the tent before death set in. There are many facts that will most likely never be known but the author here reveals a lot of things that did catch my attention.
This is not the first book about the incident. I previously reviewed Donny Eichar’s ‘Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident‘ and Keith McCloskey’s ‘Mountain of the Dead: The Dyatlov Pass Incident‘. Both books provide very good accounts of the incident but do not contain any “smoking guns”. Eichar did put forth a good theory of infra sound but makes it clear in the book that it is only a theory and no concrete evidence exist to conclusively state that to be the cause of their deaths. McCloskey provides an equally good assessment but also makes no declaration of having solved the mystery. Oss takes a different approach in this book and focuses on details in the investigation files, highlighting the missteps taken by investigators and the strange behavior of Soviet officials. Readers may begin to question whether there was ever an “investigation” in the first place. What Oss reveals will undoubtedly change what some readers familiar with the case have long believed to be true.
Towards the end of the book, Oss does provide her hypothesis of what she believed happened. It is compelling and could possibly be the right explanation. Her conclusion is supported by sound evidence gleaned from the recovery of the hiker’s tent and their remains. She does leave it up to the reader to reach their own conclusions but I believe that there is ample evidence that as more information is learned, the less of a mystery the case is. And maybe Occam’s razor truly does apply and the simplest explanation is correct. Only time will tell if Oss will be vindicated. Great read.