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The Khamar Daban Incident - Dyatlov 2.0

Updated: 6 days ago

Writing about unsolved mysteries is a lot less fun than reading about them. Speculation leads down many well-worn paths. Eventually, all mysteries get pinned on the unlikeliest of causes. In a case devoid of concrete conclusions, the imagination reigns supreme.

The Dyatlov Pass Incident in on such mystery that leaves heads scratched and thumbs sucked. Disappearances like that just aren't all that common. Plenty of evidence, and none of it making any sense. Cases like the Dyatlov Pass happen once in a century, or do they.

The Khamar Daban Incident is similar to Dyatlov case. So similar that it is often mentioned in the same breath by those in the know. Up until recently, the list of informed individuals has been short. That is because this mystery was nearly marked as solved and filed away.

Until the sole survivor started talking about it.

Russian Hikers Disappearing in the Mountains, Again

Lyudmila Korovina was a well-known hiking master in the early 90s in Russia. She had led many groups of youngsters successfully through hiking expeditions ranging from a light stroll to a grueling trek. Among her peers she was known for her no nonsense approach to wilderness survival. Some criticized her for pushing her hikers too hard.

Her abilities were passed on to her 16-year-old daughter (Natalia Korovina). In 1993, they planned to lead two separate teams on hikes through the Khamar Daban Mountains near the infamous Lake Baikal.

Lyudmila had a team of six young hikers aged between 24 and 15-years-old with her. They set out on 2 August. Clear skies and relatively warm temperatures were forecast for the six-day journey. Lyudmila's group planned on meeting up with Natalia's on the third day of the hike for a communal lunch.

When the third day came, Lyudmila was nowhere to be seen. Natalia wasn't worried. They had had some unexpectedly terrible weather the night before, and she assumed her mother's team had simply been delayed. They left the meeting place without worries.

Lyudmila's team, Tatyana Filipenko (24), Aleksander "Sacha" Krysin (23), Denis Shvachkin (19), Valentina Utochenko (17), Viktoriya Zalesova (16), Timur Bapanov (15), had in fact survived the night with no issue. They had breakfast, and started making their way to the agreed upon meeting spot. Six days passed before any of the lost hikers would be found.

The Khamar Daban region is popular with tourists seeking a mild wilderness thrill. Such was the case with the kayakers who were enjoying a day on the river. Simple pleasure would quickly turn to confused terror. Emerging from the trees was an emaciated teenage girl. She was filthy, and deep in shock.

Upon seeing the approaching kayakers, Valentina Utochenko ran to them with what little strength she had left. She latched onto the nearest kayaker, clinging to him for dear life.

The kayakers took her to the nearby village, where she reported that all of her friends were dead. Investigators waited two weeks before heading out into the mountains to search for the missing hikers.

Valentina refused to discuss the events leading up to her discovery. It took her years to process what she had seen. While she was recovering, the official investigation concluded that the hikers had died of hypothermia - except Lyudmila Korovina, who died of cardiac arrest.

Case closed.

Valentina Speaks

Years later, the now adult Valentina overcame her PTSD and told her story. She claimed that the day before the incident started normally. The mountains were quickly overcome with a terrible storm that forced the hikers to set up camp in the open.

Keen minded readers will notice the similarity to the Dyatlov pass Incident here. Hikers camping out in the open, when a safer location was nearby at hand.

Lyudmila wasn't willing to risk her team's safety on the 30-minute march to the nearby shelter. Heavy rain can turn even a forgiving slope treacherous. She commanded they set up tents and hunker down for the night.

Two tents went up, and the hikers spent the night huddled together against the sudden cold. At not point, according to Valentina Utochenko, were they concerned about the cold. They carried emergency cold weather gear that none of the team deemed necessary.

The next morning, they ate breakfast, and packed up their camp while they joked about the danger of the night before. It is normal in situations like this to turn to humor as an outlet for anxiety. They had just come somewhat close to death. Nothing that lay ahead scared them.

After setting out, the group spread out into its usual marching pattern. Sacha brought up the rear, as he was the strongest among them. Valentina was near the front.

Suddenly, Aleksander "Sacha" Krysin let out a garbled cry. The group turned to see him flailing around further up the hill. He was visibly bleeding from his eyes, ears, and bloody froth poured from his mouth. Sacha screamed again before falling to his knees.

Lyudmila commanded her team to head for the trees. She raced over to Sacha, who had collapsed fully, and was convulsing. He wasn't moving. Lyudmila checked his pulse before crying out that he was dead.

Another scream halted the team's progress to the treeline. Valentina recalls turning around to see Lyudmila, now also bleeding profusely from her eyes, ears and the same red foam bubbling from her mouth. The team raced back to help their leader, who was now also having a seizure.

Tatyana Filipenko was the first to reach Lyudmila. She turned around before the others could reach her. They skidded to a halt as they saw the same thing happening to Tatyana.

Valentina recalled how Tatyana seemed to fight for life. She collapsed, and crawled over to a pile of rocks. At first, she thought the older woman was blindly crawling. To the rest of the group's horror, Tatyana began repeatedly smashing her face into the rocks. Every strike was harder than the last, and after a soft crunch, she finally ceased her assault, trembled, and died.

Valentina froze. She watched as the other three survivors scrambled in terror. Timur and Viktoriya ran away. They did not make it far before they too died tearing at their throats as blood poured from every orifice. Denis tried hiding from their invisible assailant. He was the last of the group to be overcome by the horrific symptoms.

As the last of her friends lay dying, Valentina ran. Her body driven by pure instinct to flee. She slept in the tent she was carrying that night. During that first cold night, she came to a terrible conclusion. She was carrying none of the food. To survive, Valentina would have to return to where her team had died, and scavenge supplies from their bodies.

Valentina found her friends laid out where they had died. Sacha at the start of the downhill trail. Lyudmila draped across his back. Tatyana lying face down in the rocks. Viktoriya and Timur were the closest to the trees. Denis collapsed behind his rocky shelter.

What followed was several days of wandering around in the wilderness before she stumbled upon the kayakers.

What Killed Valentina's Friends?

There are a lot of theories out there. Like we mentioned in the beginning, the internet got hold of this case and went to town on it. So we have the standard array of nonsense mixed in with the credible.

Let's start by agreeing that blaming this on aliens or the Almas (Russian Yeti), is imbecilic. None of what happened points to anything paranormal. Obviously both of those ideas would be exciting, but there's really no evidence supporting it in any way.

We are also dismissing the idea that the hikers ran afoul of a military patrol. Valentina would absolutely also have been executed if she had seen something she wasn't supposed to.

The most likely theory is that the group were the victim of accidental exposure to the nerve agent, Novichok. If you've been living under a rock, you might have missed this particular chemical weapon's time in the limelight.

During the Soviet Union, weapons technology (especially chemical weapons) was all the rage. The Russian superstate developed a particularly deadly substance known as Novichok. It has been used in recent years, to eliminate Vladimir Putin's unwanted enemies.

Starting in the 1980s, often in remote areas like Khamar Daban, the Soviets started working on these agents of deadly chemical force. Interestingly, chemical weapons can linger on for years in the soil - just waiting to be disturbed. Rising up like an ancient curse when stepped on to liquefy trespassers.

Chemical weapons would explain how swiftly the victims died, and the gruesome nature of those deaths. Valentina was simply lucky enough not to come in contact with the agent.



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