In late 1958, Igor Dyatlov, an engineering student at the Ural Polytechnic Institute (U.P.I) in the Soviet Union, planned a cross-country ski trip for himself and some fellow students in the Ural mountains. It was a “lively and strikingly handsome group of young people” that set out to have the adventure of their lives. However, U.P.I never heard from them again, and their partially clothed remains were eventually found with a bizarre range of injuries — from burns and bruises to catastrophic trauma. It was a true mystery, and as Douglas Preston discovers for The New Yorker, one that spawned at least 75 different theories as to what happened, including a yeti attack, without conclusion.  

Two years ago, the case was reopened, and a young prosecutor in Yekaterinburg, Andrei Kuryakov, was put in charge. He came up with a new narrative — one, which, personally, I see as very plausible. However, his conclusions have been greeted with scorn by the families of the dead. 

Read this gripping story, and decide for yourself whether a mystery spanning many decades has finally been solved. 

Four bodies remained missing. In early May, when the snow began to melt, a Mansi hunter and his dog came across the remains of a makeshift snow den in the woods two hundred and fifty feet from the cedar tree: a floor of branches laid in a deep hole in the snow. Pieces of tattered clothing were found strewn about: black cotton sweatpants with the right leg cut off, the left half of a woman’s sweater. Another search team arrived and, using avalanche probes around the den, they brought up a piece of flesh. Excavation uncovered the four remaining victims, lying together in a rocky streambed under at least ten feet of snow. The autopsies revealed catastrophic injuries to three of them. Thibault-Brignoles’s skull was fractured so severely that pieces of bone had been driven into the brain. Zolotaryov and Dubinina had crushed chests with multiple broken ribs, and the autopsy report noted a massive hemorrhage in the right ventricle of Dubinina’s heart. The medical examiner said the damage was similar to what is typically seen as the “result of an impact of an automobile moving at high speed.” Yet none of the bodies had external penetrating wounds, though Zolotaryov’s was missing its eyes, and Dubinina’s was missing its eyes, tongue, and part of the upper lip.

A careful inventory of clothing recovered from the bodies revealed that some of these victims were wearing clothes taken or cut off the bodies of others, and a laboratory found that several items emitted unnaturally high levels of radiation. A radiological expert testified that, because the bodies had been exposed to running water for months, these levels of radiation must originally have been “many times greater.”