The minutes crawl by and hypothermia sets in slowly, stage by stage. It hits two of the men first. One of the effects of hypothermia is that the patient becomes very combative and aggressive. So these two men become delusional and aggressive, even as the others try to calm them down. They probably throw a couple of punches.
|Courtesy - http://www.popgunchaos.com|
Nothing thrills me more than mulling over an unsolved mystery. Years and years ago, when I saw ‘Picnic to Hanging Rock’, the open-ending had me gnawing my wrist with frustration. God that was great horror! Not the horror of evil spirits or zombies – but the horror of not-knowing. That movie distracted me no end for days together. “What happened to those girls?” I thought over and over again as I tried to understand Venn diagrams.
So imagine an unsolved real-life mystery. I had heard about one particular incident long time ago – but the memory revived when I saw a rather over-sensationalised documentary on the History channel. It is called the Dyatlov Pass Incident. If you do a Google search, you can find tonnes of articles. Possibly a factual account is in the archives of The StPetersburg Times.
Anyway, here is a summary. In January 1959, ten experienced skiers set off on an expedition to the remote Otorten mountain in northern Urals. (Yeah, jog your geography. Urals is the ribbon of mountain range that cuts across Russia longitudinally – from the Arctic coast right down to Kazakhstan.) One of the team members falls ill and returns. The remaining nine continue on their expedition led by Igor Dyatlov. The route is arduous to say the least.
As they commence their ascent, the weather deteriorates, and visibility gets poorer. They veer off their planned course as a result. Besides, twilight is spreading wings, so they decide to halt for the night. They set up their tent on the exposed face of a mountain slope. There is a pine forest 1.5 kms downhill from the spot where they had set up camp. The fact that Igor did not see it necessary to retrace steps into the safety of the forest, makes me presume the weather had cleared by then. He being an experienced skier, just as the others, did not see any imminent danger on the mountain side, or in the weather. So they have dinner, and call it a day.
But something happens in the course of the night. Something extremely terrifying. So terrifying that the sleeping hikers have no time to wear their warm clothes, gloves and even shoes. They have no time to even open the flap of their tent. They just rip the tent and tumble out into the dark, cold night. They somehow run towards the shelter of the forest. And they die.
Ten days later, around the second week of February 1959, a search party comes looking for them. Two of the bodies are found at the edge of the pine forest, naked, save for their underwear. They find the remains of a fire under a pine tree. Some branches of the pine tree high up are broken, indicating one of the skiers had tried to climb the tree. Three more bodies are found – in the snow, on the slope towards the camp. The positions of the bodies indicate that these three were trying to go back towards the camp. The remaining four campers are not found at this point in time. Post-mortem does not reveal anything abnormal, barring for a non-fatal bruise in the skull of one of the skiers. Hypothermia is recorded as the possible cause of death.
Three months later, in May, there is an uproar. The remaining four bodies are found in a ravine, under four feet (some websites report it as 12 feet) of snow. Autopsy reveals these bodies have extensive internal injuries. One of them has such severe internal injuries that the coroner rules out the possibility of a human inflicting them. Only something severe and swift such as a car crash could cause such crushing injuries, he opines. But the most ‘chilling’ discovery is the woman’s body. Early reports suggested that her tongue was missing, and that her clothes showed a low level of radiation.
More than fifty years down the line – this is still a mystery. Many theories have been put forward to explain their deaths. Aliens, UFOs, secret weapons test, experimentation by the Russian army, attack by some kind of Big Foot type creature, attack by Mansi tribe and even ghosts. I trawled through many articles to distil fact from fiction, to eliminate the hysteria. For example, some articles state that the lady’s ‘tongue was pulled out from the root’. Some others say it was a bloody mass. Some yet talk about ‘a time-traveller in the group’. Each hypothesis more fantastic than the other.
There were reports of ‘orange orbs of light’ spotted in the sky on that night. This was reported by skiers in another base camp, and this fuelled the UFO/alien angle.
Some articles claim the bodies had an orange colouration, and the army helicopters refused to carry the bodies.
Like me, there are thousands out there trying to come up with a plausible explanation. Here is what I think happened that night.
Imagine the cold, bleak mountain slope. The temperature is -30 deg celsius. The nine campers are warm in their tent. Some laugh and chat, some write their journals. They plan for the next day’s journey. They have their dinner, and settle down to sleep. Obviously, they undress – they remove their shoes, coats, gloves – and I am assuming they went to bed in warm thermals. It’s been a long day, and they’ve trekked for many hours. The cold is not comforting either. They are out like a light.
Suddenly, they hear a sound that is terrifying. Being experienced mountaineers, at least one of them recognises the unearthly sound. An avalanche. It is said that an avalanche sounds like a freight train. So imagine jerking out of your sleep to a terrifying roar that echoes between the mountain ranges, magnified by the silence of the night and the hollow of the ridges between the mountains. There is no way to know if the avalanche is heading towards them, or if it is occurring on a nearby slope.
But the roar is loud enough to sound near enough. There is absolute panic. They grab at whatever they can while someone rips open the tent with a knife. They pour out of the tent, into the icy hell. They can still hear the roar. It is but natural to run downhill. One of them points to the forest and all of them head that way. The forest is about 1.5 kilometres away.
On the slope, if the snow offered a little luminous light, the forest is absolutely dark. Besides, in the howling dark night, there is no way to ascertain if the avalanche is indeed heading towards them. They continue to hear the roar, though.
They reach the forest and huddle around. Someone starts the fire. The adrenalin has dropped. They now realize they are dressed in their night clothes sans shoes and gloves. Perhaps they realise they are not in any danger from an avalanche. However, their immediate danger is the -30 deg Celsius.
They wait around the fire for some time discussing their situation.It is clear their position is very vulnerable. Igor decides to act. Perhaps he picks up the best skiers/mountaineers in his team and decides to go back to the tent to bring down provisions and warm clothes. Of course, they all know the odds of surviving; in that cold, it takes less than 15 minutes for hypothermia to set in. But it is human instinct to do everything possible to survive. The three of them set off.
Inhuman cold, darkness, possibly howling arctic wind and nothing to provide their bodies warmth. Hypothermia rapidly sets in. First comes the uncontrollable shivering, then, as the body shuts down all non-vital functions to retain heat for the core organs, movement becomes un-coordinated, the mind becomes stupefied, and eventually, they fall to the cold snow one by one. In all probability, they were completely comatose when the heart shut down, and eventually the brain switched off.
Back in the pine forest, the situation is no different. The remaining six are huddled near the dying fire. One of the skiers climbs the pine tree to see if he can get a view of Igor and the two others. He can't see a thing. They wait and watch.
Then, sadly the final stage sets in. In this stage, a strange physiological reaction occurs were the person suddenly feels hot. Clouded by stupor, coupled with the sudden increase in body temperature the patient begins to strip. This is called ‘paradoxical undressing’. This leads to fatal exposure to the cold. Eventually, these two men die.
Realizing the futility of their situation; the remaining four head deeper into the forest. They hope to find some shelter to pass the night. Mind you, it is still a few hours past midnight, so it is still dark inside the forest. The four are exhausted – both mentally and physically. Death looms and they are desperate to find some place safe. They reach a spot where the snow is deceptively loose. All the four of them go hurtling down into the ravine. One of them sustains broken ribs, one sustains a fractured skull. One of them possibly falls in such a way that he triggers some more snow to slide – the impact of being buried under tonnes of packed snow can be crushing. No wonder he sustains extensive internal damage, while there is no external tissue damage. One of them, a lady, is probably buried under snow too. But she is alive for sometime. Her shivering is uncontrollable and severe – and she bites down her tongue in involuntary spasms, and finally it turns into a bloody pulp.
As far as the ‘orange orbs of lights’ go – could it just be aurora borealis? Remember the location is close to the Arctic circle. As far as ‘orange’ pigmentation of the skin – I believe it is the effect of extreme cold. The internet throws up discussion board links where white Caucasians have observed orange spots on their skins when exposed to cold.
Much as I would LOVE to – the reasons why I’ve not pursued any other paranormal theories is because nothing holds water. There was no sign of struggle, none of them had any wounds that would suggest the usage of a weapon. Above all, there were no other footprints, animal or otherwise. Some do suggest an army cover-up – but no motive or theory is strong enough to support this angle.
The only two facts that nibble at my brain constantly –
- The two men who succumbed near the pine tree – the ones who underwent paradoxical undressing – what happened to the clothes they discarded?
- The authorities rubbished reports that said ‘high level of radiation’ was found on one of the lady’s coats (the one without the tongue). They said it was a negligible amount. But the fact that they decided to sweep her for radiation itself puzzles me.
But one website (I'll put up the link as soon as I stumble on it again) had a very interesting, and very plausible theory. It said that perhaps there was some kind of an arms experiment being conducted by the Russian army. These could be infrasonic weapons - that is, they blasted infrasonic signals. Experiments of infrasonic signals on humans have interesting results. Apart from inducing fear and anxiety, they are also responsible for 'ghost' sightings. So it could be that some kind of a kick ass infrasonic weapon was being fired - which could have caused such terror in the camp.
But of course – all MY postulation is based on my avalanche theory, assuming that the Russian army was nowhere in sight. If geological records and data suggest NO avalanche occurred anywhere in that region on that night, and the Russian army were not conducting any such experiments – then my horror at this event boils over. I cannot imagine any normal source of this terror – it has to be something paranormal.
And the poor souls – may you all rest in peace.
© Sumana Khan - 2012