A Closer Look at Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives
A new two-hour Discovery Channel “documentary,” Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives, revisits the curious case of nine Russian skiers who died under unclear circumstances in the Ural mountains. It is packed with dramatic “found footage” recreations, dubious derring-do, a pulse-pounding score, and piles of speculation.
Here’s the premise, based on a press release for the show:
“On February 2, 1959, nine college students hiked up the icy slopes of the Ural Mountains in the heart of Russia but never made it out alive. Investigators have never been able to give a definitive answer behind who – or what – caused the bizarre crime scene. Fifty-five years later, American explorer Mike Libecki reinvestigates the mystery—known as The Dyatlov Pass incident—but what he uncovers is truly horrifying…. Based on diary accounts, forensic evidence and files that have just recently been released, Mike pieces together the graphic stories in search of what really happened that evening. According to the investigators at the time, the demise of the group was due to a ‘compelling natural force.’ The students’ slashed tent was discovered first with most of their clothing and equipment still inside. Next, the students’ bodies were found scattered across the campsite in three distinct groups, some partially naked and with strange injuries including crushed ribs, a fractured skull, and one hiker mutilated with her eyes gouged out and tongue removed… Mike first heard about the Dyatlov Pass incident on a climbing expedition in 2011 and since then has become obsessed with the case… Determined to find answers, Mike hires Russian translator Maria Klenokova to join him. Together, they set out to one of the most remote and inhospitable places on Earth. However, nothing prepared them for what they were about to discover. Following the trail of evidence, Mike finds proof that the hikers were not alone—a photograph, taken by one of the hikers a day before they died that suggests that they encountered a Yeti. But just how far will they go to find the answers?”
Focusing on the undisputed facts in this case, we know that after nearly a week of skiing the group led by Igor Dyatlov, at some point on the night of February 1-2, 1959, cut slits in their tent and left through the cut for the safety of the wooded area below, most of them wearing their underwear or a few scraps of clothing. After they failed to return, a rescue party was sent, and tracks were followed from the tent to the woods, where all the skiers were found, some of them many months later. According to the autopsy, the cause of death for all of them was hypothermia, or freezing to death; four of the nine also had internal injuries, and one of them, Ludmila Dubinina, was missing a tongue and had additional injuries to her eyes. The biggest mysteries are why the group abandoned their tent (with their supplies and clothes inside), apparently in a hurry through a cut in the fabric; and what caused their injuries.
There are many elements and claims to the Dyatlov Pass story, and many theories including UFOs, top-secret government conspiracies, and unusual natural phenomena. I won’t be addressing those claims (in fact as we will see there’s really no need to invoke those anyway), but instead focusing on the plausibility of the newest theory as promoted in the new Discovery Channel show: That a Yeti was responsible for the mass murder of nine Russians in 1959.
The Group’s Injuries
Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives begins with the premise that the injuries sustained by the skiers were so grave and extraordinary that could only have been inflicted by an inhumanly strong creature. The shows says that according to the autopsy, the hikers suffered “horrific injuries” including fractured ribs and a fractured skull attributed to a “compelling natural force” (in other words, some sort of blunt force trauma such as a fall or being crushed).
Unfortunately for the show, photographs of the dead hikers undermine most of the sensational claims. The photographs are crystal clear: the bodies were not “mutilated”. They were actually in fairly good shape for a party who had skied into the remote area, froze to death, and were discovered months later after exposure to the elements. Those who had cracked ribs were found at the bottom of a 13-foot ravine, and could have sustained the injuries falling into it, or at some point after their death during the months before they were found when buried by an avalanche or the weight of wet snow crushed them.
While a fractured skull might be considered “horrific” depending on your comfort with bodily trauma, according to the Mayo Clinic . . .
As of this writing, the Discovery Channel schedule shows the following broadcast dates and times for Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives:
- 6/8/2014 @ 8:00 pm
- 6/9/2014 @ 12:00 am
- 6/9/2014 @ 3:00 am