In Jan. 2021, a study presented by two Swiss researchers in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, seemed to back the official claim that a snow slab from an avalanche caused the tragedy. Aliens weren't at fault. Rather, it was a rampaging block of ice and snow that partially buried their tent and sent the nine Russian hikers, panicked and partially clothed, into sub-zero temperatures, where they had no chance of survival.
The research was conducted by Alexander Puzrin, a geotechnical engineer at ETH Zürich, and Johan Gaume, head of the Snow Avalanche Simulation Laboratory at EPFL, a Swiss federal technical institute.
As they dug into the data, they realized that the supposedly gentle incline of the deadly camping site was actually closer to 30 degrees, just enough to qualify it for potential avalanches. Earlier investigators assumed that the snow slope was gentler, in part to snowfall and the area's wildly undulating topography.
They also surmised that the ditch the nine Russian hikers dug to keep their tent stable may have conversely contributed to the destabilization of the snow slab just above them. Then, high winds (reported in the hikers' journals) could have piled just enough extra weight onto the ditch's rim to create avalanche conditions.
The resulting mass of moving snow and ice wasn't huge or dramatic — the block may have been less than 20 feet (6 meters) long. It was small enough to confuse the first investigators who arrived, yet large enough to cause utter panic and subsequent disaster.
The researchers also point out that the nine Russian hikers had placed their bedding on top of their skis. With their bodies against this hard, rigid material, the force of the rushing snow would've caused a lot of physical harm, explaining some of the injuries listed in the official autopsies.
In the chaos following the collision with the snow slab from an avalanche, team members likely dug each other out in various states of injury and fatigue. But the extreme cold and lack of functioning equipment essentially sealed their fates. Mother Nature, in the form of weather and wild animals, could account for the rest of the harm that befell their bodies.
The snow slab/avalanche scenario isn't as intriguing as a shadowy government plot or murderous Yetis, nor is it desirable for a profitable conspiracy theory market. Its simplicity, however, offers some comfort to the families still grieving their loved ones who died in the cold and snow so long ago.
To date, Russia authorities have not released a statement regarding what's still regarded as a preliminary investigation, but they've assured the public that modern forensics and analysis will be used during this phase.
Perhaps with new insights they'll finally wrest real answers from the grips of an icy-cold tragedy that seems frozen in time. Or maybe, just maybe, those who really know what happened on the slopes of Dead Mountain will do everything they can to further bury the truth of the Dyatlov Pass Incident in an avalanche of half-truths and lies.
Originally Published: Oct 1, 2019