🌊 Roca v. Dyatlov Pass Conspiracy

A special edition newsletter

We hope you had a nice weekend and that your blood eggnog content (BEC) has returned to normal levels. Christmas weekend for most of the US proved a mild one on the weather front. In a report that would devastate Bing Crosby, only 1% of Americans saw a white Christmas this year.

That is a bummer, so we decided to mix tragedy and snow for a special edition of today’s newsletter. Given it’s December 26 and nobody wants hard news, here’s a nice Soviet mystery to read with your coffee.

In today's edition:

  • Show us your GIFTS 🎄🕎

  • Dyatlov Pass: What really happened?

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🌯 Roca Wrap

In January 1959, nine experienced Russian hikers set out on a cross-country ski trip.

The expedition was led by 23-year-old Igor Alekseyevich Dyatlov, an engineering student at the Soviet Union’s Ural Polytechnic Institute (UPI). An avid hiker, he set his sights on an ambitious sixteen-day, 200-mile route through the Urals, the mountain range that divides Europe from Asia. As far as anybody knew at the time, nobody had ever hiked Dyatlov’s route before.

Dyatlov recruited eight friends and classmates for the expedition, all of whom were highly experienced hikers. The youngest was 20 years old; the oldest, 24. Dyatlov submitted his route to the UPI sports club, which quickly approved it.

Days before the team set out, UPI added a 38-year-old World War II veteran to the group. The others knew little about him, but they set off on January 23rd nonetheless. Diaries and witness testimonies attest that the group was in high spirits and excited for the trip.

Photo from one hiker’s camera

The hikers traveled by train, bus, car, and sleigh to a remote town near their starting point. On January 28th, one of the hikers turned back due to health issues. The team set off without him and planned to telegram UPI when they reached their destination.

The telegram never came, though, and nobody on the team was ever heard from again.

A massive search operation was launched, and on February 26th a search party found the hikers’ tent on a mountain known by a local tribe as “Dead Mountain.” The tent was partially covered in snow, but inside, the hikers’ items were neatly lined up. The only sign of possible panic was slashes through the tent that were made from the inside.

Tent discovered

Searchers found footsteps of people walking – not running – toward a nearby treeline.

Over the next days and months, researchers stumbled upon the bodies of the doomed Dyatlov hikers. Their bodies – mutilated and with inexplicable wounds – raised more questions than answers.

Dyatlov Pass: Part 2

The official Soviet explanation for the demise of the Dyatlov Pass expedition was “an overwhelming force.”

In January 1959, a group of experienced hikers set off on an ambitious cross-country expedition in Russia’s Ural Mountains. Nearly a month after they failed to arrive at their destination, a massive search and rescue mission was launched.

Rescuers initially found their tent on a barren slope with no trace of where the hikers were. Rescuers followed footsteps in the snow to a nearby treeline where they found two hikers’ bodies.

Partially buried in snow, they were lying next to a dead fire in only their underwear. One of them had third-degree burns on his body. Broken branches and bits of flesh on a nearby cedar tree suggested somebody had climbed it.

Three other hikers were later found at various intervals between the cedar tree and the tent in poses suggesting they had died trying to return to the tent. All three died of hypothermia, and most were missing major articles of clothing, such as shoes.

Months later, searchers found the remaining four bodies in a ravine nearly a mile from the tent.

Several wore the clothes of their fellow hikers, suggesting they had cut them off their fellow travelers as they were dying or dead. Autopsies revealed that three of them had died of blunt force injuries consistent with “the impact of an automobile moving at high speed.”

One had a severely fractured skull; two others had multiple fractured ribs, including one with a hemorrhaging heart. Two were also missing their eyes, while one was missing her tongue and part of her upper lip.

A test on several bodies in the ravine discovered unexpectedly high levels of radiation on several of the bodies. A researcher said at the time that their radioactivity was likely higher at their time of death.

Some claimed natural phenomena, such as an avalanche, killed the hikers; others alleged foul play. A popular theory held that the team had stumbled upon a secret Soviet weapons test.

Yet no theory seemed to fit perfectly, and just weeks after the final four bodies were discovered, the Soviet prosecutor overseeing the case closed the investigation.

In his final report summarizing his findings, he simply said: “It should be concluded that the cause of the hikers’ demise was an overwhelming force, which they were not able to overcome.”

The Soviets renamed the area near their deaths “Dyatlov Pass,” erected a monument in their honor, and fired several officials for permitting the hike or otherwise being associated with it.

All case files associated with the incident were sealed; some information has never been publicly released.

Decades after the case was closed, several Soviet prosecutors claimed they had been pressured to close the case quickly and not share their opinions about what had happened.

Since 1959, theories have proliferated about what caused the Dyatlov expedition’s demise. Did any of them contain the truth about the Dyatlov expedition?

Dyatlov Pass: Part 3

Did fireballs kill the hikers of the Dyatlov Pass expedition?

In mid-1959, just weeks after the final four bodies of the ill-fated Dyatlov hiking group were found, the Soviet prosecutor overseeing the case closed it.

His only explanation for their deaths was an “overwhelming force.” What that force was continues to be one of Russia’s great mysteries.

One of the most popular theories posits the group stumbled upon a secret Soviet weapons test. Proponents of that claim the weapon hurt several of them – thus, the severe injuries – and caused them to flee their tent in a panic. That theory is primarily based on the last photo on one of the hikers’ cameras, which showed what appeared to be orbs of light in the sky. Eyewitnesses in the Urals also attested to having seen odd lights in the sky that night.

Picture of the “orbs”

In 1990, a prosecutor who had worked on the case in 1959 published an article, “The Enigma of the Fireballs.”

“When…we examined the scene…we found that some young pine trees at the edge of the first had burn marks,” he wrote, describing the marks as unique. “This…confirmed that heated beams of a strong, but completely unknown, at least to us, energy, were directing their firepower toward specific objects (in this case, people),” he wrote.

He claimed his and other investigators’ opinions had been suppressed during the 1950s.

Another prominent theory holds that the group was targeted by either the CIA or KGB. Many of those theories revolve around the 38-year-old WWII veteran added to the trip.

Among variations of that theory, the man was meeting an intelligence agency deep in the forest, but something went wrong and they were killed. The hiker who had turned back early in the trip due to illness endorsed that theory.

Others believed that a Yeti or other snow monster killed them.

That theory – featured on a Discovery Channel show, The Killer Lives – is largely based on a blurry picture from one of the hikers’ cameras that showed a dark figure among the trees. A journal entry from the trip saying, “We know that the snowmen exist,” is also given as proof.

Supposed “Yeti” photo

In 2021, Teodora Hadjiyska – founder of the blog dyatlovpass.com – co-authored a book, “1079: The Overwhelming Force of Dyatlov Pass.”

In that, Hadjiyska claimed the Dyatlov expedition had camped in the woods, not the mountainside – “they were too experienced to make that mistake” – and at some time during the night, a falling tree hit their tent and caused the severe injuries found on some of the bodies. Hadjiyska theorized that caused the others to flee the tent, after which they froze to death.

Why, then, was the tent found on the mountain and several of the bodies in a ravine far away?

Hadjiyska alleges a cover-up: Nearby troops and geologists searching for uranium found the bodies and, fearing being implicated in their deaths, staged an alternate cause of death. She claimed they moved the tent and dumped several of the most injured bodies into the ravine.

This week, Hadjiyska revealed to Roca previously unreleased evidence supporting her theory: Analysis from a fallen tree that showed it had fallen around 1959, the year of the expedition.

“This is very new and very groundbreaking,” Hadjiyska told Roca, calling it “proof” of her theory. Furthermore, she said she recently found a tin can far away from the mountainside “that could only belong to the Dyatlov group.” That “contradicts the presumption that they went in the ravine only to die,” she said.

Hadjiyska’s theory has a following, but critics point out holes.

Why would people with no connection to the Dyatlov expedition orchestrate a cover-up? Why were there no footprints in the snow or other debris indicating such a cover-up occurred?

The same year Teddy published her book, two researchers published a study claiming to have identified another possible solution. That theory gained traction – and many now consider it the long-awaited answer to the mystery.

Dyatlov Pass: Part 4

In 2019, sixty years after the fateful Dyatlov expedition, family members of the deceased convinced the Russian government to reopen the investigation.

Andrei Kuryakov, the prosecutor put in charge, immediately rejected 72 of 75 widely-circulated explanations for the incident, calling most of them “conspiracy theories.”

He focused on three remaining possibilities…

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