quarta-feira, 27 de novembro de 2019


The Dead Mountain Incident. Russia, 1959. Fredric M. Menger, Emory
University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Dead Mountain (“Holatchahl”), located in the Ural Mountains of central Russia,was the objective of a 10-day backpacking trip by nine students (seven boys and two girls attending the Ural Polytechnical Institute). The mountain itself is a high barren dome with its name referring to an absence of vegetation rather than what happened to the group in the winter of 1959 while camped on its slopes. When these experienced campers did not return home at the prescribed time, search parties were sent out. A single canvas tent, erected at the bottom slope of the mountain, was found to have no one in it. Vertical slits, later shown to have been made from the inside, had been cut into the back of the tent. Otherwise everything inside the tent seemed quite orderly, indicating that there had been no fight within the tent. There was only one surprise: Many pairs of boots were still in the tent. In snow-covered terrain at temperatures as low as - 25 o F (-32 o C), no seasoned hiker would leave a shelter without proper foot gear.

A lengthy and arduous search was initiated using long poles inserted into the deep snow to detect buried bodies. Trained dogs were also used for the purpose. To make a long story short, all nine bodies were found within 1.5 km of the tent. Seven were victims of hypothermia, i.e. they had frozen to death. Two others died from internal injuries after falling off a cliff while walking in total darkness. Most of the students were wearing inadequate clothing, given the extremely cold and windy weather, and all of them were without boots. It seemed, therefore, that something had badly alarmed the students inside the tent, whereupon they rushed out (perhaps through the vertical slits) in such a hurry that they had not a chance to put on warm clothing and boots. The main question, of course, was what could possibly have caused such a bizarre and fatal exit from the tent. In the past sixty years, there have been numerous discussions, books, articles, and TV shows on the subject. Four popular theories are the following:  
1) Avalanche. It has been proposed that the students departed the tent abruptly when they heard an avalanche coming down from the mountain. One problem with this theory is that there is no evidence for an avalanche. For example, the tent had not been buried by snow. Footprints were still evident. Another problem is that much of the slope of the mountain is too gentle (<20 o ) to make an avalanche likely, especially when there had been no fresh fallen snow.  De esta forma, la secuencia correcta de aminoácidos está alineada, y los aminoácidos están todos juntos para formar una proteína. 
2) Armed Attack. An indigenous people, the Mansi, living within fifty miles of Dead Mountain, are highly unlikely to have attacked the students. The Mansi are friendly and peaceful and, in fact, assisted the students on their way to the mountain. Crime in the area is unknown. Moreover, footprints in the neighborhood of the tent were only those of the students. Another proposal suggests that the perpetrators were escaped prisoners from a neighboring Gulag. (A Gulag is a Siberian prison camp originally established by Stalin for his political enemies). Opposing this idea is the fact that at the time there had been no report of escaped prisoners. In any case, since hikers’ property had not been stolen, there is no obvious motive for involvement of either Mansi or prisoner. Cold War speculations also abound. One of them proposes that three of the hikers were KGB (the Russian secret service) who intended to deliver fake samples to CIA agents while taking pictures of them. When the CIA realized that they were being deceived, they massacred the entire group. Imagination is a wonderful thing.  
3) Mushrooms. Russians are ardent gatherers of wild mushrooms (as I can testify having myself participated in the activity with a group of Russians). Amanita muscaria, a deadly mushroom that grows in the area, has been blamed for the disaster. (As an interesting side-note, reindeer that eat the mushroom are not killed by them but only get inebriated. Their urine, containing partially detoxified mushroom components, is enjoyed by humans as a drink). It seems conceivable but unlikely that on that final night the students placed a sub-lethal portion of Amanita in their food, and as a consequence suffered from delirium and bizarre behavior that led to their frozen death.  
4) Infrasound. From a scientific standpoint, this is by far the most interesting rationale. An infrasound vibration is a sound-wave less than 20 Hertz (where 1 Hz = one vibrations per second). This is far below the human hearing range. Yet many people exposed to infrasound report intense anxiety, fright, and shortness of breath. Strong wind blowing across the smooth mountain top might have created a so-called “Kármán vortex,” a spiral of moving air that revolves around an axis-line (as in a tornado except that it is horizontal and perhaps a meter or less in diameter). A vortex might have traveled down-slope, passed by the tent, and produced infrasound to the extreme discomfort and panic of the students within.

In summary I am as mystified as everyone else as to the cause of this sad event. Perhaps the cause is other than one of the four that I have discussed. As an investigator once said to those trying to understand Dead Mountain: “What you’re really trying to do is reverse-engineer a tragic event without any witnesses.”  
Ref.: D. Eichar, “Dead Mountain,” Chronical Books, San Francisco, 2013. https://dyatlovpass.com/theories

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