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The Latest Open Source Theories, Speculation and Debunks on Flight MH17

July 22, 2014

By Eliot Higgins

Over the past few days various theories and speculation about the downing of Flight MH17 have been shared online, from the identify of the Buk Missile Launchers (that may or may not have been used depending on who you ask), to  examinations of the damage visible on the remains of the aircraft.  Here’s a look at some of the more interesting theories, speculation, and debunks being discussed at the moment.

Shrapnel Damage on MH17

As more and more images of the remains of flight MH17 were posted online, people began to notice what appeared to be shrapnel damage to the aircraft. Several parts of the aircraft were shown with what many agreed to be shrapnel damage, and the following image mapping part of the damaged aircraft to it’s apparent position on flight MH17 was shared on social media sites

 

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The same piece of the plane, along with other pieces of debris, were discussed on the PPRuNE forum, with one user creating the following image showing where the pieces of debris would be positioned on the complete aircraft

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It appears the front port side of the aircraft took much of the shrapnel damage, with the following video from Al Jazeera showing part of the inside of the cabin 53 seconds in

The part shown on the right is the floor of the cabin (reference image here), with damage from what is likely to be shrapnel on the port side, in line with the above image

Cockpit

An image of the same section of the plane shared on Twitter shows a different angle of the same part of the aircraft, again showing what is likely damage from shrapnel

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Justin Bronk, a Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Military Sciences research analyst also shared the following image

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Based on the above, it appears there’s a growing consensus of where the aircraft was hit, the front port side, not the rear of the aircraft as some have claimed.

Buk 312

One theory that’s been doing the rounds involves “Buk 312”, a missile launcher some have connected to the attack.  This appears to be a case of confusion, maybe the result of the use of a library image, or just a straight forward attempt to deceive.  The following image was shared by the Ukranian SBU in a press release linking the Buk used to down MH17 to the Ukranian rebels

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The top left image is from the video released from the Ukranian Ministry of Interior, claiming to show the Buk used to down MH17 on a transporter, leaving the country.  The bottom right hand image shows a Buk which the press release appears to link to the other image, with the main claim being this is a Russian Buk, not Ukranian.

This claim was apparently contradicted by this video from March 2014, showing a Buk with the same numbering in government controlled territory.  The following image then became widely spread on social media sites, claiming to be proof the Buk used to down MH17 belonged to the Ukranian military

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Thanks to The Interpreter and StopFake.org, we now know the situation is slightly different.  A photo of the same Buk, on what appears to be the same transporter, and the same road, was posted on Facebook in March 2014, the same time as the video showing Buk 312, and shows it in Ukranian possession.

Facebook

It’s unclear why the SBU used an old image from March to link it to the transporter and Buk in the Ministry of Interior video, maybe their own failed attempt at propaganda, but all it achieved was confusing the situation.  If they were trying to link the two transporters then they should have maybe asked why the transporters had a different paint scheme, different number of wheels, and different loading ramps.

The Launch Site Found?

A couple of days ago Storyful shared high resolution satellite map imagery of the areas around the crash site and locations identified in images of the Buk Missile Launcher (shared here, open with Google Earth).  While many people focused on the crash site itself, others were looking for signs of the launchers. In a post on the Ukraine@WAr blog the author identified tracks in a field in images from July 20th, just south of the location the suspected Buk Missile Launcher was filmed, south of Snizhne

tracks

In his next post on the subject, the author also believes he’s identified the direction of smoke seen on the day, which some have claimed to be from the launch of the Buk’s missile, as being the same direction as the field.  Personally I believe there’s two things that would be useful here, having satellite map imagery from the day before the attack to confirm the tracks are fresh, and having someone on the ground examine the tracks, ideally measuring the distance between the two sides of the tracks to see if it matches the specifications of the Buk.  While I don’t feel the posts are conclusive, it’s something that warrants further investigation.

Eliot Higgins

Eliot Higgins is the founder of Bellingcat and the Brown Moses Blog. Eliot focuses on the weapons used in the conflict in Syria, and open source investigation tools and techniques.

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