I cannot think of Russia without thinking of the Dyatlov Pass Incident, a half-century old mystery that has fascinated and stumped everyone who reads about it. In 1959 a group of nine experienced hikers went on a skiing expedition into the Ural Mountains and never came back. A search party found the group dead of a variety of causes: hypothermia, internal bleeding, head trauma and chest trauma. The group’s camp was badly damaged. Rather than finding the group inside their tent, the tent was partially disassembled and cut open from the inside. The group members were found spread out, wearing only socks or in various states of undress in the snow. Some members of the party weren’t found for months as they were buried under 13 feet of snow. A nearby group of hikers recall seeing “orange spheres” in the sky the night the group died. The best theory is that an avalanche caused their deaths, but the bizarre facts of the case don’t neatly fit into any scenario that has been put forth.
Decades later, in 1993 a group of seven Russian hikers led by “master” hiker and survivalist Lyudmila Korovina set off on a trip into the Khamar Daban mountain range. Like the Dyatlov group, unforeseen poor weather conditions forced the group to set up camp in an exposed area. The next morning the group made a fire and ate breakfast before setting off with plans to meet group leader Korovina’s daughter, Natalia, who was leading another group of hikers in the area. They never showed up.
Korovina’s group was made up of:
- Lyudmila Korovina (41, the leader)
- Aleksander (Sacha) Krysin (23)
- Tatyana Filipenko (24)
- Denis Shvachkin (19)
- Valentina (Valya ) Utochenko (17)
- Viktoriya Zalesova (16)
- Timur Bapanov (15)
Six days later a group of kayakers spotted a girl covered in blood. It was Valentina Utochenko who had been part of Korovina’s hiking group. She was so traumatized that it took years for her to be able to tell police what happened.
Just minutes after the group set out that day, the hiker at the back of the line, Aleksander (Sacha) Krysin, started screaming. He was bleeding from his eyes and ears and frothing at the mouth. Sacha seized and died right there at the beginning of the trail. Korovina, who was the closest to Sacha and viewed him like a son, stayed with him and told the group to keep going but soon Korovina exhibited the same gruesome symptoms and collapsed.
Tatyana Filipenko was the first hiker to run back and see why Korovina had started screaming. Tatyana herself then started showing symptoms and the group watched in horror as “she slowly crawled over to a nearby rock and bashed her head against it until she went limp.” It was pandemonium for the four surviving members.
Viktoriya and Timur took off, Dennis hid and Valya remained frozen in place. Valya witnessed the other three hikers die in the same mysterious way, clutching their throats and convulsing. She ran as far as she could that day and slept in the tent she’d been carrying. The next day Valya forced herself to return to the site so that she could gather more supplies in order to survive long enough to make it to safety. Four days later, she met the kayaking group and was rescued.
Autopsies showed that the group members died of hypothermia except for the group leader Lyudmila Korovina who died of a heart attack. The pathologist also noted that each of the hikers had bruised lungs and protein deficiencies.
Theories about what happened range from aliens to Russian military experiments. The way Valya described the group members dying is similar to what would happen if someone was exposed to a chemical weapon like nerve gas. It’s also possible that Valya’s eyewitness account of what happened is inaccurate, as trauma impacts the ability to understand and remember what is happening around you. Another theory is that the group drank water with toxic waste in it or ate poisonous mushrooms by mistake.
The Korovina group and the Dyatlov group were hiking in different areas of Russia, the largest country in the world that makes up 11% of the world’s total landmass. I don’t think the two groups are connected. I do, however, wonder how many paradoxical cases of mysterious mass hiker death is common for one country to have.