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Book Review: Dead Mountain: The untold story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident (2014)



The front cover of Dead Mountain (2014), by Donnie Eichar, encapsulates the essence of the whole book; a group of cross country skiers disappearing into the gloom of a cold, frozen waste. It’s a photograph taken by a member of the ill-fated group.

In February 1959 a group of ten students and graduates from the Ural Polytechnic Institute in Sverdlovsk, Russia embarked on a winter adventure. It was to be a Grade III trip in which they would cover 300 kms in a minimum of 16 days with one-third of the trip challenging. They were to travel hundreds of miles due north, by train and truck, and then on foot and skis to the bleak Otorten Mountain. They were all experienced hikers and skiers and lead by the most experienced; Igor Dyatlov. It was acknowledged that “Igor had indisputable authority” (p.31).

A remote woodcutter settlement marked a decision point for the expedition. Beyond this point there would be no other settlements, no roads, no people, no help just a barren, frozen wasteland. A member of the group, Yuri Yudin, made a decision to abandon the trip at this point. Illness made it impossible for him to continue and should it get worse he would put the rest of the party in danger. As his friends trudged off into the snow and mist it was the last time he would see them alive. Their slashed and abandoned tent, complete with their boots and equipment, clothing and food all neatly arranged would be found by the search party. Their bodies, partly clad, without shoes and three with evidence of violent trauma would be found months later. Some died from their injuries, the others by hypothermia… within a few hundred yards or so from their tent. At the time of their last diary entry the temperature would be forty degrees below zero with winds of 40 mph. It raised the obvious question: “What… provoked the nine hikers to leave the sanctuary of their tent?” (p.217); the official answer was an “unknown compelling force” (p.253). Thus began the mystery of the Dyatlov Pass Incident.

In his exploration of the Dyatlov Pass Incident  Donnie Eichar weaves together two stories. One involves pen portraits of group members and their friendship. The numerous, grainy, black and white photographs capture moments in their lives and along their route. A description of life in Russia in the late 1950s, the impact of the Cold War, restrictions and secrecy serves to explain the attraction of wild open spaces.

The other is a desire to understand the circumstances surrounding the unexplained deaths of nine young people in bizarre circumstances. In doing so Eichar actually retraced their steps in the bleak Russian wilderness. He drew upon his research skills as a documentary film maker and the insights provided by the only survivor, Yuri Yudin. Eichar’s story also draws upon the hiker’s journals and photographs, government records and interviews, maps and witness statements. He assembles the evidence and in doing so challenges the myths and legends that have emerged in over fifty years.

Dead Mountain: The untold story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident  is a compelling read. Informed by the ‘evidence’ Eichar skilfully explores previous explanations – only to challenge and discount them. He finally formulates an account that satisfies all the known and previously unavailable scientific evidence. In the words of Sherlock Holmes: ‘when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’ Donnie Eichar’s conclusions may just persuade you that the mystery of the Dyatlov Pass Incident is finally solved.

Dead Mountain: The untold story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident (2014)

  • by Donnie Eichar
  • Publisher – San Francisco: Chronicle Books
  •  288 pp
  • ISBN 9781452140032         

Donnie Eichar is a director and producer of film and television. His work includes the documentary Soaked in Bleach (2015) and the TV Series Buried Life (2010) and Killing Fields (2016).

He was born in Florida, USA and now lives in Malibu, California with his wife.

Find out more about the reviewer, Professor Fred Lockwood, who is also a published author at

Dr Fred Lockwood is Emeritus Professor of Learning and Teaching, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. He is also a PADI Master Scuba Diver and dived in the waters of Central America and Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia, Australasia and the Pacific Islands. Follow Fred at

Miscellaneous Blogs

The BiG Scuba Podcast… with Samantha Falcucci



Gemma and Ian chat to Samantha Falcucci. Samantha is a technology professional in New York City, STEM mentor, and ocean and space exploration advocate. After studying Information Systems & Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, she launched into a business-technology career and has worked at Microsoft for six years guiding enterprise customers through their unique digital transformations. She has fostered a passion for science all her life and is dedicated to hands-on scientific research and communication in both space and ocean related fields.

Samantha earned her Advanced Scuba certification at 17 and is passionate about diving and marine science. She is a citizen scientist volunteer recording microplastics presence at the Jersey Shore for the Plastic Wave Project and is a member of the NYC Sea Gypsies scuba club. In August 2021 she became a trained analog astronaut and helped lead a Mars simulation in the Mojave Desert with an international crew.

She dedicates her passion for science to her late grandfather who was an entomologist and loved launching model rockets together. She strives to set an example as a citizen-scientist while advocating for diverse backgrounds needed in exploration. Her advice to aspiring conservationists is to find unconventional ways to study and care for the ocean regardless of your age or if it is directly related to your job and studies. She looks forward to sharing all of her upcoming space and ocean related experiences on her Instagram blog.

Have a listen here: 

Find out more here:

Find more podcast episodes and information at the new  website and on most social platforms @thebigscuba 

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Miscellaneous Blogs

Film Review: Thirteen Lives



Ron Howard’s recreation of the 2018 rescue of a Thai junior football team is impressive. Even though we know what happens in the end the tension and drama played out is palpable.

On 23 June 2018, 12 members of a Thai junior football team, the Wild Boars, and their coach became trapped deep in the Tham Luang cave system by rising flood water. The film details the incredible international rescue efforts that ensue. And Ron Howard has judged the tone perfectly. There is no Hollywood glitz and glamour and the two leading actors: Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen, who play John Volanthen and Rick Stanton respectively, capture the intensity of the situation perfectly.

The diving scenes are claustrophobic in the extreme. Although I suspect that the visibility was even worse than the film depicts as you have to be able to see something in the dramatization! All the way through the film I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at the extraordinary feat these divers pulled off. The skill and bravery required still impresses after watching films, hearing them speak in public and reading about the rescue.

I loved that, whilst the divers took centre stage in the film, the heroic rescue efforts of the water engineer and his team was also given the attention they deserve, as well as the incredible Thai Navy Seals and the thousands of people that flocked to the region to help.

Thirteen Lives is a must watch movie about an incredible cave rescue. It’s sober tone hits the mark. The cinematography is skilled and creates an impressively tense experience. It is available on Amazon Prime right now.

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