In the face of tragedy, survivors expect some kind of explanation. It helps us process even the most dire cases of human suffering and provides much-needed closure. However, as a team of Russian hikers found out, those kinds of answers aren’t always easy to come by.
Decades ago, a deadly catastrophe cast a shadow over the country as long as the mountains themselves. Every possible clue that authorities came across raised more questions than answers. They were almost ready to give up on the solution until the government re-opened the case in 2019 — and made a decisive statement.
In 1959, Igor Dyatlov and nine friends merrily trudged into the Ural mountains. The route was no picnic, but these were professional hikers, eager and prepared for a challenge. However, only one of them ever came back.
For the rest of his life, Yuri Yudin didn’t know quite what to say. Aside from being one of the youngest members of the expedition, he was also the least healthy. Just four days in, knee and chest pain caused Yuri to fall behind.
At that point, everyone else was still having the time of their lives. They felt bad for their friend Yuri, but had no interest in giving up so early into their adventure. The other nine continued on without him.
Before parting ways, Igor promised Yuri that he’d sent him a telegram once the adventurers made their way back to civilization. He waited and waited for a message over the next few weeks, but nothing ever came.
Part of Yuri doubted that these outdoor aficionados would be in real danger, but the warning signs were unmistakable. The Soviet Union deployed a rescue team to retrace their steps. They came across a nightmare on Kholat Syakhl, which roughly translates to “Dead Mountain.”
It was hard to stomach. The group’s tent, seemingly ripped open from the inside, lay in tatters around their campsite. Many shoes and articles of clothing were at the bottom, though there were no hikers to be found.
Authorities held out hope for a rescue, but that optimism was snuffed out when they found the first bodies. Two hikers were located below a nearby tree line. It appeared that they were practically frozen, but that wasn’t the strange part.
They were partially undressed, one to the point where he was clad only in his underwear. What would make experienced outdoorsmen strip to their skivvies in arctic temperatures? That mystery would have to wait, as more remains popped up in the following weeks.
Gradually, the rest of the bodies came to light, though they were scattered about in different directions. A medical examination surmised that six of them died of hypothermia, but that wasn’t as clear for the other three.
They showed signs of serious trauma. In addition to severe fractures to the skull and ribs, two of them were missing eyeballs. Lyudmila Dubinina, buried beneath the snow, no longer had a tongue. And the medical oddities didn’t stop there.
Police brought Yuri up the mountain to identify his friends’ remains, but a strange discovery sent them scrambling from the site. Geiger counters revealed that the climbers’ bodies and clothing were radioactive. The entire campsite was, as a matter of fact!
Despite widespread press coverage of the disaster, dubbed the Dyatlov Pass Incident, the Soviet government stayed remarkably tight-lipped. They concluded that a “compelling natural force” killed the adventurers, but many felt unsatisfied with that explanation. Yuri was among them.
All kinds of possible explanations have made the rounds in the following rounds. Some borderline on the fantastical, like a theory that the mythical Yeti attacked the camp and caused the horrific facial wounds.
Others named alien visitors as the culprits, which gained a surprising amount of traction. About a year prior to the disaster, unidentified lights were spotted in the night sky. Though many couldn’t support a supernatural explanation, they agreed something had to drive them from that tent.
The simplest natural explanation is that an avalanche or freak storm forced them to flee the shelter. Then, they underwent paradoxical undressing — a version of hypothermia where victims take off their clothes due to an imagined burning sensation.
From there, nature’s scavengers picked over the bodies, which caused the physical trauma. Likely as the avalanche theory may be, it doesn’t explain the radiation around Kholat Syakhl or the Soviet officials’ reluctance to comment on the case.
Early in their investigation, Russian police speculated that the indigenous Mansi people had slaughtered the hikers. Most readers, however, saw that authorities were simply using them as a scapegoat. That led to conjecture that the government was responsible for these deaths.
With the Cold War brewing, was it possible that Igor and the others wandered into a weapons testing site? Yuri thought that could explain the brutal injuries and irradiated bodies, plus some unexamined evidence at the campsite.
Years prior, he was puzzled by strange skis and cloth located near the bodies. None of the equipment belonged to his friends, but they did look military issue. Up until his death in 2013, Yuri talked about a possible cover-up. Six years later, Russia took a firmer stance.
On the 60th anniversary of Dyatlov Pass, prosecutor Andrei Kuryakov studied over the full case report. He said there was no proof of criminal or violent behavior, but rather that “either an avalanche, a snow slab, or a hurricane” was responsible.
Still, plenty of skeptics are still digging for a more sinister truth. They’re also trying to connect this hiking mishap to other strange events in Russia’s past. Could it all be a part of a larger plot?
The Moscow Times
In 2013, the calm morning in Chelyabinsk, Russia, turned into an inferno. The incident only took a few seconds. An illuminated streak, brighter than the sun, tore through the sky and sent a devastating shock wave through the region.
The aerial explosion caused massive damage to the town and injured well over a thousand people. Yet, they considered themselves lucky. They remembered the stories about a far more devastating case from a century earlier.
The morning of June 30th, 1908, Emperor Nicolas II of Russia received a jaw-dropping piece of news. Apparently, an ungodly explosion blasted across miles of Siberian forest near the Tunguska River. As far as authorities could tell, it wasn’t an attack by their German or Japanese enemies.
Reddit / xstrauss2
Nobody knew quite how to describe it, so the incident became known as the “Tunguska event.” The scope of the damage was hard to measure. The most obvious consequence was hundreds of square miles flattened — trees snapped in half like twigs.
No cameras managed to capture the event, so the Russian government had to rely on the handful of eyewitness accounts available. Their hands shaking, peasants from remote villages recalled the stunning details of that night.
A local newspaper collected their unbelievable accounts. They reported being awoken by “some strangely bright (impossible to look at) bluish-white heavenly body, which for 10 minutes moved downwards.” Then, unbearably loud claps of thunder rolled in.
“At that moment I felt a great heat as if my shirt had caught fire,” one man recalled. “I was thrown on the ground and for a moment I lost consciousness.” He survived relatively unscathed, but three people in the area were never seen again.
Though the fallout was most traumatic for those near the center of the Siberian blast, the night sky lit up all over Asia. All the way over in London, scientists picked up on unusual seismic activity that coincided with the flash.
Modern experts calculated that the Tunguska event topped 15 megatons, meaning that it matched the energy of about a thousand of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima. But where did it come from?
YouTube / American Heroes Channel
The Russian government was at a total loss. They intended to send a team of scientists to investigate the site, but it was too remote to reach at the time. However, the native Evenki people had a troubling opinion on the matter.
Eying the destruction, they spread the rumor that their god Ogdy came down to Earth and smote the forest in a fury. This was the best explanation anyone could come up with until an official expedition finally came together twenty years later.
In 1927, mineralogist Leonid Kulik led a team of researchers and Evenski guides to the center of the blast radius. One of the top minds in his field, he believed he had a scientific explanation for that fateful morning.
Kulik theorized that the aerial explosion was the result of a meteor crashing through the atmosphere. It could explain the bright lights, the heat, and the sonic boom. All Kulik needed was a bit of proof.
Though the scientific community’s knowledge of outer space was limited at the time, they had studied meteorite impacts in other parts of the world. The telltale sign of such a collision was a crater, which could span hundreds of miles in diameter.
Kulik’s team ventured into the Siberian wasteland, following the fallen trees to the middle of the site. Finally, they came to a huge clearing. They estimated it was near the center of the blast, but there was no sign of any impact.
The scientists gathered mineral samples from the soil — perhaps an extraterrestrial body had broken up into tiny fragments upon entry. None of their results, however, showed that these rocks matched the composition of a meteor. Kulik was stumped.
The Siberian Times
Despite his best efforts, Kulik never cracked the Tunguska case. Subsequent generations of scientists examined the site and claimed to have found particles of a meteorite scattered around the area. But there are other theories floating around.
Natural History Museum
Many scientists assert that an icy comet caused the Tunguska event. But German astrophysicist Wolfgang Kundt rejected the idea that the answer came from outer space. Instead, he explained that a massive leak of natural gas was the perpetrator.
YouTube / Wolfgang Kundt
We may never know exactly what caused the Tunguska event. A giant clearing still remains in the middle of Siberia, which indicates that it could have been the largest impact in recorded history. However, it’s not the strangest outer space collision we know of.
One autumn afternoon in 154, residents of Sylacauga, Alabama spotted “a bright reddish light like a Roman candle trailing smoke” in the sky. Some fled, thinking the Soviets were springing a new Cold War weapon. Not even the most paranoid, however, suspected what it actually was.
Surviving its trip through the atmosphere, the extraterrestrial rock made an unexpected visit to an Alabama farmhouse. Rather than sneak in like a burglar, the meteorite announced its presence with a crash.
Earlier that afternoon, Ann Hodges flopped down on her sofa for a nap. The 32-year-old just wanted a few hours rest before her husband returned from work, but she woke up with a violent thud.
As she came to her senses, Ann couldn’t quite grasp what had happened. A football-sized pain erupted on her left side, though she seemed otherwise unharmed. She tried to peel back the shock and see if she was in further danger.
Ann’s living room, as far as she could tell, looked as normal as ever. The only thing that was off was that her radio had a large gash on the side, with several pieces spilling out onto the floor.
The commotion brought a crowd of townspeople to the Hodges house, and they helped Ann up off the couch. Police soon identified a gaping hole in the ceiling, the perpetrator just a short distance away.
It was a large chunk of the meteorite! Miraculously, it shot through the farmhouse roof, ricocheted off the radio, and hit Ann as she slept. A geologist on the scene couldn’t believe it. No one in recorded history had ever been struck by a meteorite.
Ann’s husband Eugene, a utility worker, nearly blew a gasket when he came home and found his home had turned into a circus. Fortunately, his mood improved when Ann told him they might have just stumbled upon a goldmine.
It’s hard to understate the value of any meteorite, let alone one that actually hit someone. According to astronomer Mike Reynolds, “You have a better chance of getting hit by a tornado and a bolt of lightning and a hurricane all at the same time.”
Ann and Eugene figured they could make a fortune off the space rock, but some legal complications soon threatened their hopes. For one thing, they didn’t actually own the land where the meteorite crashed. So who did it belong to?
When the Hodges’ landlady sued them for possession of the meteorite, they chose to settle rather than lose their big-ticket item. They paid her $500 — a steep price for a working-class couple from Sylacauga. But they were sure it would sell for a bundle.
Soon after, the Smithsonian approached Ann and Eugene about buying the meteorite for their impressive collection. With such a small offer, however, the Alabamans refused. They sat by their telephone, waiting for some millionaire caller.
That offer never came. In fact, the only reward the Hodges got from their dumb luck was nonstop media attention. Reporters barely gave them a minute of privacy, and the financial stress started to boil over. Ann suffered a nervous breakdown.
Sadly, the Sylacauga housewife was never quite the same afterward. Her weakened state ate away at their loving marriage until Eugene finally rode off and left her in 1964. Ann had no children to care for her.
The next eight years, Ann wasted away in a nursing home. She died there of kidney failure, looking far more frail than her mere 52 years. While she tragically passed, however, the rock that made her famous did live on.
Prior to her death, Ann donated the Sylacauga meteorite to the Alabama Museum of Natural History. Maybe she just had to get rid of it, after it ruined her life. But elsewhere in the small town, that rock actually made a huge difference.
The Anniston Star
A smaller meteorite fragment landed, with far less fanfare, in the yard of Julius McKinney. The poor farmer received a similar offer from the Smithsonian, which he accepted. That paycheck allowed him to buy a car and a new house for his family.
Ann Hodges will always be remembered as the person who came closer than anyone to a falling star — though she certainly didn’t get what she wished for. But then again, anyone who finds a meteor takes a gamble when trying to earn a few bucks for it.
David Mazurek discovered this very fact when looking to purchase a farm in Edmore, Michigan back in 1988; because it wasn’t exactly brand new, Mazurek wanted to know exactly what he was getting himself into.
Kevin Dooley / Flickr
As the property’s owner led him on a tour of the farm, Mazurek noticed a large stone propping open the door of the back shed. Mazurek thought nothing of it at first, yet as the tour continued he just couldn’t shake the odd-looking rock from his mind.
Finally, Mazurek just had to ask: what in the world was that thing? It was unlike any rock or stone he’d ever seen before. That’s when the farmer revealed that it wasn’t of this world at all.
According to the farmer, he had actually seen the rock fall from the night sky as a child way back in the 1930s. Eager to recover the space stone, he and his father had trekked out to the fields the next morning to see if they could locate it.
Jutting from a large crater in the earth, the stone was still hot to the touch as the farmer and his father pulled it from the dirt. Neither of them had ever seen anything like it before, though, given its weight, they figured it’d be best used as a doorstop.
@human_meteorite / Instagram
The farmer’s story was believable enough, but even so, Mazurek wasn’t entirely convinced. A meteorite as a doorstop? What a waste! Still, he was more than happy to take the stone when the farmer offered it to him along with the property.
WOOD TV8 / YouTube
For the next three decades, Mazurek made use of the rock in the only way he knew how: as a doorstop. Yet the unusual stone continued to marvel all those who saw it, and over the years, his children even brought it to school for show-and-tell.
Finally, following a meteor shower in 2018, Mazurek began to wonder if the farmer’s story might have been true after all. People all over Michigan were finding meteorites in their own backyards, though they certainly weren’t using them as doorstops.
I Am A Voice In The World
Not only were Michiganians turning these space rocks in for cash, but they were also making some pretty big bucks doing it, too. Mazurek could only imagine what his “doorstop” might be worth, but there was still one glaring question he needed to answer first: was this a true meteorite, or just an ugly rock?
Mark Mathosian / Flickr
He contacted a friend who studied geology at Central Michigan University, who then led him to Dr. Mona Sirbescu, a professor at CMU. Dr. Sirbescu agreed to examine the stone, though she wasn’t particularly optimistic about the outcome.
Over the years, Dr. Sirbescu had been approached hundreds of times about suspected meteorites, and nine times out of ten, these “extraterrestrial objects” turned out to be just ordinary rocks.
Yet as soon as she laid eyes on Mazurek’s stone, Dr. Sirbescu knew they were dealing with something special. Holding it in her hands, the large rock had all of the tell-tale signs of being a meteorite, though it’d take more than just a physical examination to confirm her suspicions.
Using x-ray fluorescence, Dr. Sirbescu dove into the makeup of the stone. While Mazurek’s “doorstop” was 88 percent iron, it also contained 12 percent nickel. Being that this metal is almost solely found meteorites, Dr. Sirbescu knew this stone came from outer space.
Weighing over 22 pounds, Mazurek’s meteorite was now the sixth-largest space stone of its kind to be recovered in Michigan. With a pedigree like this, Dr. Sirbescu was confident that the rock could fetch a ton at auction.
Central Michigan Life
More specifically, she suggested it could get up to $100,000! But they were getting ahead of themselves here, and Dr. Sirbescu didn’t want to make promises she couldn’t keep. To be extra sure that this was truly a $100k meteorite, she sliced a piece of the rock and mailed it off to the Smithsonian for additional analysis.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Geologist Catherine Corrigan was the first to examine the stone, and after a few tests, she could corroborate Dr. Sirbescu’s findings. But even with the meteorite’s identity finally set in stone, what was to become of Mazurek’s incredible find?
The Washington Post
According to Dr. Sirbescu, he had two options: sell the stone to a museum, or sell it to a private collector looking to turn a profit. Either way, Mazurek was determined to put the proceeds from the meteorite to good use.
Central Michigan University / Facebook
If he did decide to sell the stone, Mazurek vowed to donate ten percent of the sale to CMU to provide funding for further geological studies. Regardless of the donation, however, Dr. Sirbescu insisted that being able to study the meteorite was gift enough.
Allowing her students to physically interact with the space rock gave them a unique perspective on the true nature of their studies. “Just think, what I was holding is a piece of the early solar system that literally fell into our hands,” Dr. Sirbescu recalled.
Central Michigan University
Mazurek’s meteorite – now dubbed the Edmore meteorite – continues to be analyzed in the hope of discovering rarer elements within. But although meteorites are not an entirely uncommon sight here on Earth, one unusual stone once found on the Moon had no earthly business being there at all.
This stone’s story started two years after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took a giant leap for mankind, when NASA concluded two lunar landings weren’t enough. Organization executives wanted a third, so they cooked up the Apollo 14 mission.
The mission saw Commander Alan Shepard, Command Module Pilot Stuart Roosa, and Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell suit up for what would be a nine-day jaunt to the moon.
Space.com via NASA
NASA scheduled the launch for October 1970, but, after the failure of the Apollo 13 mission, delayed it four months. So, it was January 31, 1971, when these three finally took off from the Kennedy Space Center.
The astronauts hoped, of course, that their scientific agenda up in space would change the way humanity thought about physics. About life. They didn’t know, however, that they’d make a discovery destined to shake the scientific community years later.
America Space via NASA
On February 5, the crew landed on the moon. Shepard and Mitchell took giant leaps of their own, while Roosa stayed in lunar orbit. Over the next 33 hours, the guys worked.
ECN via NASA
While in the orbiting shuttle, Roosa took photos of the Earth and moon, including the spot the future Apollo 16 was scheduled to land. He also germinated 500 tree seeds, which, fun fact, eventually became known as Moon Trees.
Meanwhile, on the moon’s surface, Shepard whacked a few golf balls with a club he built with some spare junk. Cool as that sounds, the real game-changing mission involved rocks.
Shepard and Mitchell collected almost 100 pounds of moon rocks. Scientists were no doubt licking their lips thinking of all the rare moon minerals and lunar geological practices these puppies would help them understand.
Nine days after takeoff, on February 9, the Apollo 14 crew landed safely in the Pacific Ocean. Back on Earth, they delivered their findings to NASA, where scientists eagerly went to work.
Unbeknownst to the Apollo 14 crew, however, was that amidst those hundreds of rocks was one that would have scientists completely baffled. A rock that had no business being on the moon.
This was learned decades later, after NASA loaned the rock to Curtin University in Australia. There, in 2018, Professor Alexander Nemchin made an eyebrow-raising observation about the rock (below).
The 1.8-gram sample contained granite, a mineral common on Earth but incredibly rare on the moon. “The sample also contains quartz (below),” Professor Nemchin added, “which is an even more unusual find on the moon.”
Blake Schwartz / flickr
Additionally, the rock contained zircon, and the chemistry was “very different from that of every other zircon grain ever analyzed in lunar samples,” he continued, “and remarkably similar to that of zircons found on Earth.”
In other words, somehow, among all the rocks collected by Shepard and Mitchell, was a rock formed on Earth! Professor Nemchin and his team were stumped: how could a stone make the journey without hitching a ride?
Professor Nemchin and his team put their heads together and composed a theory. The story behind the rock’s journey, as they saw it, started 4 billion years before the Apollo 14 crew stepped aboard their spacecraft.
See, back then, when the Earth was in its infancy, space proved a wild place. Asteroids were constantly slamming into the baby-faced planet, forming the landmasses we call home (because Bruce Willis wasn’t around to destroy them).
Some of those pre-Willis meteors hit with so much impact that they launched pieces of the earth’s surface a few dozen million miles, all the way up to the surface of the moon.
While this sounds insane, the moon during that time period was about three times closer to Earth than it is now. This explained why the rock collected by the Apollo crew was so clearly formed under terrestrial conditions.
An alternative theory is that conditions on the moon billions of years ago were, like, the total opposite of what they are now, and that allowed the rock to form as is. Nemchin and his crew found the asteroid catapult a more reasonable theory.
Either way, as team member Dr. David Kring, of the Universities Space Research Association, said, “it is an extraordinary find that helps paint a better picture of early Earth and the bombardment that modified our planet.”
Coincidentally, a few years before the Apollo 14 crew launched, Astronaut Gordon Cooper — who had a similar role to that of 14’s Stuart Roosa — first made a discovery from space that changed the way we saw history.
It was 1959 when NASA invited Cooper to Washington, D.C. as a potential candidate for the Mercury Project. The project sought to put a man into Earth’s orbit and then return him safely, and Cooper was an ideal candidate.
After placing him on a shortlist of 109 potential candidates, NASA selected Cooper as one of seven men for the program. In May 1963, he conducted his first mission aboard the Faith 7, a craft so small it could only fit someone under five feet and 11 inches tall.
The instructions NASA gave the enthusiastic Oklahoman were simple: go into space solo, survive, and study zero gravity’s prolonged effects on the human body. At least, this was the mission as far as the public was concerned…
NASA via Space Flight Insider
The project started out a rousing success. From May 15 to 16, for just about 34 hours, Cooper orbited Earth, becoming the first astronaut to sleep in space. But then, in the midst of this enormous accomplishment, disaster nearly struck…
As Faith 7 returned to Earth, the automatic piloting system malfunctioned. Experienced flier that he was, Cooper didn’t panic. Instead, he grabbed the controls and maneuvered the spacecraft into a perfect landing on a waiting aircraft carrier. His mission was complete… or was it?
NASA via Discovery
Though the public didn’t know it at the time, Cooper’s mission also involved taking pictures. “Man, all I do is take pictures, pictures, pictures,” he said in a message to ground control. “I’m up to 5,245 now.” But he wasn’t just looking for eye-catching images…
L. Gordon Cooper / NASA
Cooper’s camera was actually equipped to detect magnetic aberrations along the Earth’s surface. This allowed him to secretly look for Soviet nuclear bases or submarines off the coast of the United States…
RR Auction via Collect Space
In the process of searching for secret nuclear bases, Cooper also detected hundreds of anomalies near the Caribbean, which he carefully charted in his small Faith 7 spacecraft. These aberrations, he noticed, weren’t big enough to be nuclear sites. So, what were they?
Discovery Channel via Mother Nature Network
Cooper wasn’t sure what he’d spotted from space, but he had a few ideas. For an unknown reason, he never told NASA or the Department of Defense about these strange anomalies. He decided to embark on his own personal mission…
NASA via Discovery
Once safely back on Earth, Cooper started investigating his findings. The anomalies he saw all seemed bunched around old trading routes that had been highly trafficked by Spanish ships. Surely this was more than a coincidence…
Cooper quickly made the connection from the shipping routes to possible shipwrecks, and he researched everything he could regarding centuries-old shipwrecks. Eventually, he felt confident that he had, in fact, charted some of them from space! What did this all mean?
The world would have to wait to find out. He had a long and successful career, including a mission on the Gemini 5, during which he spent 190 hours in space. Still, Cooper never had the time to truly explore his findings. As he grew older, time started running out…
NASA via Honey Suckle Creek
Afflicted with Parkinson’s and nearing the end of his days, Cooper didn’t want his secret discovery to be for naught, so he phoned his friend, Darrell Miklos (right). An explorer who had experience hunting for rocket ship debris, Miklos could investigate on Cooper’s behalf.
Cooper passed away in 2004, but by then his map was safely in his friend’s possession. At long last, it was time for Miklos to investigate what Gordon Cooper had seen from space all of those decades ago. Was there any truth to it?
“I believed Gordon 100 percent,” Miklos told Parade magazine. “I didn’t need proof.” Neither did the Discovery Channel, which, along with Miklos, created Cooper’s Treasure, a 2017 TV show that documented the investigation.
Discovery UK / YouTube
So, what did they find? On one journey, Miklos and his crew traveled to a spot on Cooper’s map looking for evidence of a shipwreck. With the help of deep-sea diving gear, they surveyed the ocean’s floor, hoping for a sign…
Discovery UK / YouTube
Sure enough, the crew uncovered a massive anchor! They hauled it to their deck, and soon after they realized that it was from the era of Christopher Columbus. This made it an extremely valuable artifact from the past!
Discovery UK / YouTube
By mid-2017, Miklos and his crew had searched five spots on Cooper’s map, and at all five, they found evidence of a shipwreck. With hundreds of points still left to explore, what other treasures might be waiting for Miklos to uncover?
Miklos planned to visit the rest of the locations, but it would take time. Still, as he told Newsweek, “I hear Gordon all the time in the back of my head: ‘You’re on the right trail!'” And it sure looked that way.
Discovery Channel via ABC News
Regardless of whether Miklos would be able to spend the next few decades searching for his friend’s discoveries remains to be seen. Still, you know that Gordon Cooper—the Oklahoma boy who reached the stars—would be happy to see his secret finally paid off!
NASA via Collect Space