Nine young Russian mountaineers, two women and seven men, died under strange circumstances on a skiing expedition in the Ural Mountains during the first days of February 1959. The event, known as the Diatlov Pass incident, in honor of the leader of the expedition, eventually became one of the most famous and intriguing mysteries of the 20th century. The last that was known with certainty from the hikers was that something unexpected – and until now unknown – caused the young people to cut down the tent from the inside at midnight on February 1 and escape into a forest more than 1 km away, without adequate clothing, with extremely low temperatures, less than -25 ° C, and with strong winds at the back
The historical records of the case say that twenty-six days after the tragedy the search teams found the first frozen bodies in the Forest. The last bodies appeared three months later naked and with blows to the chest and face. According to the 1959 Soviet criminal investigation, "a compelling natural force" had caused the death of Diatlov's group. Despite the verdict, the Russian government never presented evidence or clearly explained what had happened. A few months later, he closed the case and prohibited entry to the area of the event for several years.
This gap in the investigation, added to testimonies of alleged observations of bright orange spheres floating in the sky during that night and alleged traces of radioactivity found in the clothes of the mountaineers, made the relatives of the deceased distrust the official version. In the absence of a logical explanation that would reveal the causes of the deaths, conspiracy theories surrounding the Diatlov case spread throughout Russia. Some claimed that the hikers had died of infrasound-induced panic, others that wild animals had eaten them and others more than local tribes were responsible for the deaths. It was even believed that they had suffered the "fury of the abominable snowman", that they had been victims of nuclear weapons tests or that the KGB, the Russian intelligence agency, had killed them for political reasons.
¿ Why did the mountaineers really have to abandon their tents? How did they die? In an unprecedented decision, the Russian prosecution decided to reopen the case in 2019 and in 2020 reported that an avalanche of snow had been the true cause of the deaths. The explanation, once again, was not enough for the few relatives of the victims who are still alive or for the hundreds of pilgrims who travel each year to the scene of the events.
Faced with the new official hypothesis, the disbelievers presented four arguments that they questioned the possibility of the avalanche: 1) The search team that arrived 26 days after the tragedy did not report obvious signs of an avalanche. 2) The average slope angle over the store location was not steep enough to produce an avalanche, as it was less than 30 °. 3) The hypothetical avalanche fell during the night, at least nine hours after the mountaineers made the cut in the snow to set up their camp. 4) The chest and skull injuries of the deceased were not typical of avalanche victims
Johan Gaume , director of the Snow and Avalanche Simulation Laboratory at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and Alexander Puzrin , professor of geotechnical engineering from the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and an expert on snowslides, decided to begin investigating a quantifiable physical mechanism that could reconcile the avalanche hypothesis with the seemingly contradictory evidence. The findings of their work, which were published in the latest issue of the journal Nature , demonstrate how a small slab of snow fell off the mountain, hitting hikers while they slept and forcing them to leave the camp.
Puzrin recounts for e-mail that simulations of his work showed that “the incident was the result of a combination of three unfavorable circumstances: a cut in the snow slab when setting up the tent, a special topography and strong katabatic winds that transported snow and loaded the slab that broke off and produced the avalanche on the store ”. To explain what happened, the researchers built a physical mechanism that simulates slab avalanches caused by the progressive accumulation of windblown snow on a slope similar to where the hikers set up the tent.
"Identifying such a mechanism," says Puzrin, "may provide new insights into the nature of snow cover instabilities caused by storms, which is another important motivation for this work." The two researchers' model also reconciled the lag time, estimated from the forensic investigation, with the wind speeds observed at the weather stations that night. He also provided the dimensions of the slab, which was shown to cause serious, but not fatal, injuries, which coincide with the injuries found in the autopsy of the dead youths.
In addition to clarifying the reason for the death of these 9 youths, the This research serves to rethink snow avalanche studies. "The new models, developed in this work, will allow a better understanding of the mechanisms of natural avalanches, caused by the slow accumulation of snow, rather than by the dynamic impact of skiers, vehicles and explosions", says Puzrin. They will also help to study the impact of avalanches on humans.
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