The program stated that they have their own theories as to what happened to the students. Some possibilities they dismissed outright, like the UFO encounter. They felt that was way beyond the realm of possibility given all the clues pointing to government involvement in missile testing and cover-ups that were revealed during their investigation and broadcast.
The program also dismissed the theory that the Mansi murdered the students due to a complete lack of evidence, and also the Menk for the same reason.
This is what we have left.
First Russian Theory
This first theory comes to us (via the Russian program) from Moisei Axelrod, an accomplished mountaineer who know the students and lived the life they did way back in 1959.
Moisei was a member of the original search party who subsequently spent the next 30 plus years looking for answers as to what really happened to the nine students. He said that in 1959 a new type of weapon, or rocket, was being developed and tested in that area (the Mountain of the Dead area). During a Russian holiday called the UPI (Ural Polytechnical Institute) Spring Day, he and his wife saw a pulsating ring flying across the sky. That was on February 2, 1959. His wife, a journalism major interning at Tagils Workers paper, reported that the paper printed an article about the object because someone from one of the Vysokogorski iron quarries saw it one morning. But “censors” removed any mention of it from the paper.
Moisei believes these two events are connected – the deaths of the students and the sighting of this experimental rocket. He explained that if this rocket entered their airspace and dropped to the ground, it would have caused bright lights and ground shaking. Moisei said other people in the area reported seeing parts of the third stage of a rocket laying around. He was part of the original search party, so he was able to see and hear things that others were not. (Russian Rocket poster from 1957, left.)
Moisei made this point – in those days the rockets were not sophisticated like they are today. There was no laser guidance system aboard. He also said that if it hit the ground causing the Earth to shake, it would have caused at least a snow slide if not a full avalanche in the area of where the students were sleeping.
He believes a snow slide ran over the tent. The Russian tent was 13 feet long, 6 feet of which was on a flat plane while the remaining 7 feet was slanted up a slope. Moisei said sleeping in a tent under these conditions was tough because whatever part of you rests on the ground is very cold, so you toss and turn a lot through the night.
Here’s how he think it happened:
- The tent was hit by a snow slide. Those sleeping in the far end of the tent, behind the ledge of the slope weren’t hurt. The ones at the front of the tent were injured. The snow could have hit them hard enough to cause fatal injuries. There was no explosion (or the tent would have been blown away).
- Zolotorov was near the tent entrance, probably sleeping on his side, hence the ribs on that side were crushed. Dubimina was probably on her stomach so both sides of her ribs were broken. As for Thibeaux-Brignolles, well Moisei thinks he probably had something uncomfortable under his head, like a camera because he liked to show off. The force of the snow hitting his head against the camera or whatever is probably what fractured his skull.
- Moisei said he had given Dyatlov a Chinese flashlight. They would have quickly gotten out of the tent because of the likelihood of a follow-up slide. The 5 healthy ones would have helped the other four out. Moisei said he feels at this point Thibeaux B was probably dead due to the severity of his brain injury. But still they knew they had to all get away from the avalanche area. Hence the mass exit off the snow plain to the tree line and the big cedar.
- Moisei thinks they were headed back to a supply hut that they had used prior to approaching this final ascent area. It’s where they would store materials they needed for the return trip back down the mountain, saving themselves the work of lugging it up and down the mountain for nothing. He said they clearly missed their mark and wound up by the forest.
- He figures this is what happened: they got to the forest and tried to make a wind shelter by breaking branches and putting them on the ground as a barrier to the cold so the wounded could rest there. Then the 3 healthiest set off to go back to the tent but Moisei said that was a hopeless effort because he was there, and you could only see the tent from that point in the woods 6 or 7 hours a day, on a good day, and they were doing this at night. He explained that area is a “aerodynamic pipe” that pumps fierce winds, blizzards, and tons of snow all the time. He said it’s no surprise that the 3 succumbed to hypothermia and death.
Another researcher in recent years, Aleksei Kozkin, said there couldn’t have been an avalanche there. He believes the students were all doing different things at that time, and that at least 2 of them were outside the tent, while others were inside bedding down for the night. He thinks something occurred that caused an explosive shockwave and he says this would explain how the two students were thrown against rocks and severely injured.
Aleksei also said there were probably strange noises and lights associated with the event that would have panicked the students. So he says that’s when they cut open the tent in various states of undress. They would have picked up the injured and headed away from the tent area as fast as possible.
Yuri thinks the students ran into some sort of test (as do other experts in mountaineering who agreed with him). He figures it was mostly likely a military test since there were traces of radiation found on the students’ clothes. He said some of them survived up to 8 hours after the initial event.
He also brought up another disturbing fact. He said some of the initial searchers on the scene believed the students had run into the guards from the Dzerzhinsky Division who were “liquidating the results from the explosion – getting the evidence out of the way and cleaning up the test area.” Yuri said, “It’s possible that they suffered from that.”
The program indicated that meant the division left them there to die, and even arranged their bodies to look some other plausible explanation. The narrator of the program added, “Their involvement would’ve been very grim and would explain the missing tongue.”
Peter Bartholomew doesn’t believe the theory involving the Dzerzhinsky Division because he said, there are other predators and animals out there.
The bodies were found under 13 feet (4 m) of snow. Yuri Kensenovich said that KGB members were present in the area after the tragedy was discovered. He said that in 1959 the KGB was the strongest organization in the Soviet Union and that they could do whatever they wanted.
Peter Bartholomew’s Opinion
Peter Bartholomew knew the students personally, and well. He didn’t think there was any CheKa, UGPU, MGB, or KGB involvement. He thinks that military tests were being done throughout the night, that fateful night. He said several other groups saw some trails in the sky at the same time, similar to the moon disk, but moving much faster. This object was within the student group’s area and caused some acoustic or mechanical effect. He said the group may have panicked.
He said they were clearly frightened terribly to the point where they cut through the tent, desperate to get out, and then hurried down a 4,000 foot slope to the forest. Peter’s account doesn’t explain how some of the students were badly injured.
The narrator specifically said they weren’t going to discuss the UFO option because it was too “fantastical.” Given the history of the area as a military test range, I think this was a wise decision. Manmade involvement in the students’ deaths is becoming more clear by the minute.
The show’s narrator mentioned that two individual witnesses claimed to have seen pieces of metal found around the site of the tragedy. Experts analyzed the metal and they learned they were pieces of the 3rd stage of a rocket. For this and other reasons, many in the area believe this proves there was a failed military rocket test.
The narrator said that some felt since the students were all engineering majors at UPI and very technically competent, they shouldn’t have been so frightened by a rocket. But this is what I say – radiation!! Everyone needs to be afraid of radiation exposure!
Another member of the original search party, Tokarev, said, “I think they might have suffocated instead of freezing to death. The snow around the face of Zia Kolmogorova was bloody. The blood was coming out of her nose and throat. Further on, they couldn’t start a fire. The birch bark and twigs only “ashed over” probably because of a lack of oxygen.”
One last theory said that the students were blinded by the flash of whatever exploded. They point to the fact that some of the students were heading for the tent separately and that the same cedar branch had been cut several times. Interesting, but I think this one is a stretch and the weakest argument of them all.
Wrapping Up the Clues
This is one heck of a complicated story, made all the more difficult by the passage of time and the distance most of us face in getting to the original scene of the crime.
Here’s how the Russian program pulled it all together:
Aleksei Kozkin studied the reports of the flying spheres in the sky witnessed by many, particularly the Mansi. He was able to determine they were all seeing a sodium rocket that had released a sodium cloud. He thinks that was the culprit that set-off the tragic events the night of February 2, 1959.
He said, “Everyone has only a copy of a redacted criminal case with several missing pages.” He added, “There is no final conclusion and without additional information, there can’t be.”
Aleksei is 100% sure other investigations were conducted at the same time as the criminal investigation by the KGB and possibly also a high ranking police division. He said they would certainly know what event ultimately caused the deaths of the students as well as what sky phenomenon everyone was seeing in the area that terrible night and on the nights the search parties were there. But none of that information is forthcoming. It never made it into the light of Glasnost.
Yuri Kensenovich said the Russian people have a right to know what authorities found and he asks if they, the government, are ready to take responsibility for the deaths of the 9 students.
The program narrator added that many are interested in hiding the truth [to this day] and that is why the information we do have has been gathered piece-by-piece by “so-called journalistic hobby investigators.”
The program concludes that this mystery and its cover-up could lead all the way up to the Ministry of Defense.
I believe, thanks to this thoughtful and detailed presentation, as well as the effort of the “so-called journalistic hobby investigators,” we’re close to the truth as to what happened that terrible night over 50 years ago.
Clearly the government was involved and it was one of their military rocket experiments that set off the tragic chain of events leading to the students’ deaths. I would dare to say, these young adults were collateral damage thanks to a military experiment gone wrong.
The show ended by saying that despite the cover-ups and mystery, the example of the students’ courage and fortitude will live on. The narrator said, “Their deaths is quintessentially the struggle of man against the monster called militarism.”
At the time of the filming of this program, the people of Russia planned to build a bigger and better memorial in their honor.
Just to be clear:
Does this mean the Menk didn’t kill the students? Yes.
Does this mean the Menk don’t exist? No.
Does this mean there aren’t any UFOs? No.
It just means they weren’t involved in the deaths of the 9 students.
There’s one strange postscript to this story. The Mansi named the mountain at the center of this whole sad tale the Mountain of the Dead (Kholat Syakhl) because of their own legend that says a long time ago, 9 Mansi also died there. It is believed they died as the result of a flood.
The students died there in 1959. Then in 1991 a plane crashed there killing the 9 people aboard. Strange, isn’t it?
(My apologies for any misspelled Russian names and place names. They’ve been a real struggle for me.)