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Officers began a search for the group about a week later, and on February 26 found their tent half-buried in the snow. But it was empty. Over the next few days, searchers found the bodies of five climbers in the snow outside, but scattered a few hundred meters from the tent. The condition of the bodies was astonishing: two were wearing only underwear, some were either barefoot or only wearing socks, all had scratches and cuts, one had burns, and one lost a part of his hand. The piece had been cut, which was still inside. His mouth

In May, after the spring thaw, the remaining four bodies were found. Again, there were puzzling injuries: a badly fractured skull, missing eyes and tongue, broken ribs, and more.

What happened to these nine climbers? The official criminal investigation abruptly stopped at the end of May, using these mysterious words: “The cause of the hikers’ demise was a tremendous force, which they were not able to overcome.” It only fueled endless speculation over the years, blaming the mystery military campaign, or an encounter with a yeti, or even aliens descending from a UFO: an astonishing total of 75 different explanations. But there was no definite answer. This so-called “Dyatlov Pass Incident” remained one of the Soviet Union’s – and then Russia’s – great unsolved mysteries.

In 2015, Russian authorities reopened the case. A team of investigators announced in 2019 that a type of avalanche had hit the tent, injuring pedestrians and forcing them to flee in freezing conditions. Only, there was no real evidence of avalanches. In fact, the slope on which the tent stood was too gentle for an avalanche to form and strike. In addition, there was a gap of nine hours when the pedestrians pitched their tents and the mysterious disaster struck them. What can explain this?

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So the question remained. But last year, two Swiss engineers outlined a mathematical explanation for the avalanche theory (Johann Gaum and Alexander Puzrin, Mechanisms of slab avalanches and effects in the 1959 Dyatlov Pass event, Communications Earth and Environment, 28 January 2021 https:// /rb .gy/8oniqz.

Hikers cut a slope of snow to create a flat surface on which to pitch their tent. True, that slope itself was too gentle for an avalanche. But Puzrin and Goum theorize that hikers cut directly into the snow above where the ground below was a “locally steep slope”. Lying parallel to that slope was a layer of “weak” snow, meaning it was not as dense as anywhere else. This created an “upward-skinned” snow slab that was exposed when hikers cut through the snow.

Consider sticking a small diary in the middle of a paperback. If the diary is completely hidden in the pages of a large book, it probably won’t pop out, even if you hold the paperback up its spine. But let the diary pop out even a little bit and it will pop out when you pick up the paperback. This analogy will help you understand Puzrin and Gaum’s model.

Another factor contributed to the tragedy. So-called “katabatic” winds – caused by cold air blowing down from the icy side of the hill – accumulate fresh snow on the slopes above the tent. This extra weight, combined with the exposed slab below, created the situation that made an avalanche possible. “Our model shows”, the two Swiss engineers write, “the conditions for issuing an avalanche could be met after a delay of 7.5 to 13.5 hours, from the moment the hikers cut the slope, in agreement with forensic evaluation.” time of death.”

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So: As hikers slept, unaware of the slabs that pointed directly at their tent, winds were gathering snow on the slopes. The snow load increased to the point when the slab shredded and then slid directly into the tent. Puzrin and Goum’s calculations show that it was about 5 m long and was moving at about 2 m/s when it struck hikers. This relatively small piece of snow filled the tent and was later buried by fresh snow, which explains why investigators could not find evidence of the avalanche.

But could a piece like this injure pedestrians so badly? Goum tried to answer this in two interesting ways. First, he asked the Walt Disney Company how they animated the movement of ice in their movie “Frozen.” He incorporated his methods into his own modeling. Second, General Motors had data from crash impact tests on bodies from the 1970s, conducted for design safety. belt. This data helped Puzrin and Goum understand what that slab of ice might have done for the hikers sleeping in that tent.

In short, it would have easily broken the ribs and skull. The paper uses this dry language: “The impact on the human chest of a typical ice block (like this) results in a maximum chest deformity of between 28% and 34%.” Serious injuries, but they did not immediately kill the hikers, who jumped out of the tent in fear and fled, but in their minimal clothes and shoes, and were already wounded, with no chance of survival.

A man was probably checking for frostbite when he took a bite of his own flesh. After their death, small carnivores probably chewed their eyes and tongue from some of the bodies.

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Brutal and gruesome all around, and many questions remain unanswered.

But six decades later, there is at least something about the closure of this tragedy. Thanks math.

Dilip D’Souza, once a computer scientist, now lives in Mumbai and writes for his dinner. His Twitter handle is @DeathEndsFun.

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