Two Russians who were rescued in November after four months lost in the taiga wilderness of the Far East ate the corpse of a companion in order to survive, reports said on Monday.
A group of four men had disappeared in August on a river-fishing expedition to the vast Yakutia region in the Russian Far East, one of the most remote and inhospitable places in the world.
Only two of the men were finally helicoptered to safety at the end of November and the discovery of fragments of a human corpse at their campsite prompted investigators to open a murder case amid rumours of cannibalism.
The two survivors have not been arrested but are being treated as witnesses in the murder case. However it appears investigators are now certain cannibalism took place.
"During questioning, one of the witnesses testified that cannibalism did indeed take place," a source in the investigation told the Komsomolskaya Pranda daily.
"It was not murder.
"They ate the man after he died from being unable to cope with the conditions."
Yakutia newsite NVPress.ru also quoted local investigators as saying that the fisherman named Alexander Abdullayev confessed that he and the other survivor Alexei Gorulenko ate the corpse of Andrei Kurochkin.
"According to Abdullayev, Kurochkin died a natural death -- he froze to death -- and he and Alexei Gorulenko fed themselves with his flesh for weeks," NVPress.ru said.
Investigators from Yakutsk, the capital of Yakutia, confirmed officially for the first time last week that they were looking at cannibalism as a possible explanation.
The local branch of the Investigative Committee (SK) said they had flown out one of the fishermen -- apparently Abdullayev -- last week to look for the fourth man named as Viktor Komarov.
They found the fishermen's UAZ jeep -- in which they had driven deep into the taiga -- half submerged in a frozen river but the "corpse of the fourth fisherman was not found."
Rescuers had found the two survivors by the Sutam River some 250 kilometres (155 miles) from the nearest town of Neryungri in the south of Yakutia.
According to Komsomolskaya Pravda they had covered some 150 kilometres (94 miles) on foot after the breakdown of their jeep triggered their problems.