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Russian TV Inadvertently Demonstrates MH17 Wasn’t Shot Down by Aircraft Cannon Fire

October 11, 2014

By Eliot Higgins

Anyone who has been following the debate over the downing of MH17 will know one point of contention is which weapon was used to down MH17. On one side you have people who say it was mostly likely a missile launched by a Buk missile launcher, and on the other people claiming it was cannon fire from a jet. Generally the former claim is used to link the separatists to the downing of MH17, while the latter is used to claim the Ukrainian government was responsible.

Russian television will today broadcast a special report, previewed on Dmitry Kiselyov‘s Вести недели (News of the Week) programme on October 5th. Dmitry Kiselyov is very well known in Russia, and was last year appointed by Vladimir Putin as head of the new official Russian government owned international news agency Rossiya Segodnya.

Presented by Arkady Mamontov, a Russian journalist who last year linked the Chelyabinsk Meteorite incident to gay activism, it promises to explore the downing of MH17 in depth, and in the preview they demonstrate the lengths they’ve gone to in their investigation by arranging to have a live fire exercise to test out cannon fire on aircraft.

First we’re shown the entry holes created by the cannon fire, several holes of a consistent size and shape.


Next, the other side of the aircraft, where along with the larger exit holes we also have much smaller holes of various shapes and sizes.

2 3

So here we have a pattern of damage established, consistently shaped and sized entry holes and the same shaped exit holes surrounded by smaller exit holes of various shapes and sizes. There’s even a comparison shot of the MH17 wreckage to demonstrate how closely the damage matches.


However, there’s been many photographs of the wreckage of MH17 posted online, and some of these show clear examples of the initial damage done to MH17 when it was first hit. This panel, from above and behind the flight deck windows (discussed here at length), shows clear examples of entry holes coming from outside the aircraft.


It’s clear that unlike the entry holes in the Russian video, these holes are a wide variety of shapes and sizes. This image shows the full panel with many more points of penetration.


It’s also worth noting that many of the 30mm cannon scenarios involve the attacking aircraft coming from below, generally from behind, yet the above images clearly show the impacts coming from above the flight deck.

Another example of MH17 entry holes comes from ANNA News, a Russian language news channel embedded with separatists in Ukraine. In this video they are given a tour of the wreckage by separatists, where they are shown part of the aircraft it isclaimed was hit by cannon fire. Here’s a image from the video showing the entry holes.


We get a sense of the size of these holes in this image.


This is what’s claimed to be entry holes from cannon fire, but as we can see, compared to the Russian TV piece on the damage done to MH17 there’s a significant size difference.


It’s been possible to ascertain that the panel in the ANNA News video was positioned above the flight desk windows, on the starboard side of the aircraft (details here), so, as with the earlier example, this shows cannon fire from below and/or behind the aircraft could not have caused this damage.

Thanks to the Russian channel’s work we now have a rare chance to compare the damage from cannon fire on aircraft to the damage done to MH17. Based on the Russian channel’s own tests it seems clear that the entry holes visible in the above examples do not match what’s shown in the Russian channel’s own tests. It seems that rather than prove MH17 was shot down by cannon fire as they claim, they’ve inadvertently provided evidence that it wasn’t.


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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  1. leenur

    It’s also good that they’ve eventually decaded to be on one main line of event. If by investigation will proven other version of event and they jump on other version it’s mean that they only hiding the truth.

  2. Anon

    This article sounds like double-speak to me. Of course, cannon entry and exit holes have huge variation, depending on angle, bullet mass, size, shape velocity, etc. Of course the entry holes would be nice and round. The exit holes shown were painfully similar to some of the holes seen on the famous HD picture of the MH17’s wreckage.

    I don’t remember the Russians saying anything about cannon fire being the ONLY thing that shot MH17 down. With a combination of both cannon fire AND AA Missle shrapnel, I won’t be suprised that we’ll end up with the damage we observed from MH17’s wreckage, if we somehow hit it in a similar way it was hit.

  3. ItsEric

    The gun video also contradicts the “close bullet hole pattern” theory too. Please note that they show 4 entry holes that are at least 2 feet apart in an area roughly 10×10 feet out of a burst of perhaps 100 shots by the SU-25. So an experience pilot shooting at non-moving targets can’t get canon fire to hit closer than two feet?

    Now lets add in the complication of trying to keep steady on a target that is moving at 900 KPH or 825 feet per second. The canon fire would be much more dispersed which completely contradicts those that say the damage has to be canon fire and not a large anti-aircraft missile like those used by the BUK system…

  4. Андрей

    Россия предоставила свою версию, где же версия Украины?
    Где аудио записи пилотов Украинских ВВС? Где фото с американских спутников?
    Кому выгодно было сбить этот самолет над территорией, контролируемой ополченцами Донецкой народной республики ?

  5. Андрей

    Russia gave his version, where is the version of the Ukraine?
    Where audio recording Ukrainian Air Force pilots? Where the pictures from American satellites?
    Who benefits was to bring down the plane over territory controlled by militias Donetsk People’s Republic?

    • Mario

      There’s no Ukraine version. The Ukraine version will be released when the result’s of the investigation are known, until then they’re doing the right thing, they’re not trying to blame anyone, at leats for some time, and they’re waiting, and maybe that as prevented them of shootting themself’s in the foot has Russia has been doing.

      • D

        ‘until then they’re doing the right thing, they’re not trying to blame anyone’
        Didn’t Poroshenko blame E.Ukrainian rebels?
        ‘shootting themself’s in the foot has Russia has been doing.’
        So how come nobody ever seen Buk that was supposedly operated by rebels? Any idea how do you hide number of large tracked military vehicles (Buk complex) in 2014?

  6. Pasparal da Beira do Canal

    (Third attempt to post this)

    Question: how does the fuselage skin of an Aero L-39 (used in the demonstration) compare to the reinforced double-layered skin of a Boeing 777 cockpit? My guess is 30mm AP shells would create slightly smaller punctures in the latter.

    According to the main alternative hypothesis Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was ambushed by one or more fighter jets which shot the Boeing down using both cannons and air-to-air missiles. The Russian military claimed the plane they detected ascending towards MH17 had a radar profile similar to a Sukhoi Su-25 which is a Soviet built ground-attack aircraft. A typical Su-25 is equipped with a double-barreled 30-mm gun, type GSh-302 / AO-17A. In addition the Su‐25 is capable of carrying SPPU‐22 containers with 23 mm GSh‐23L dual‐barrel cannons. Another comparable plane, such as the Italian version of AMX International AMX 20 mm (0.787 in) M61A1 Vulcan 6-barreled Gatling cannon.

    Let’s also take into account what a bullet or shell impact looks like at different angles.

    (Note that these impacts were made in a test environment with homogeneous metal plates.)

    So dismissing the fighter jet non-Buk hypothesis, merely because some impact damage cannot be caused by 30 mm makes no sense (except if you are a hired apologist on the payroll of SIS, NED, the Open Democracy Foundation).

    The question no one has been able to answer is how a fragmentation blast is capable of producing neatly aligned round holes at regular intervals:

    Now combine this with the fresh eyewitness accounts mentioning one or two fighter planes flying in the vicinity of the doomed Malaysian Boeing moments before hearing explosions. BBC Russia mysteriously (not really) deleted their early MH17 reportage from their website (luckily some people saved a copy) :

    Just like the BBC, Paris Match also sent reporters to the crash site shortly after the incident.
    But unlike the BBC Paris Match decided just to censor the sensitive information by cutting out the short parts where the eyewitnesses mentioned the other plane close to MH17. Luckily out of the context it becomes more than clear the men are not talking about a missile but about a plane (beside the Boeing).

    Personal research also lead me to the following interesting fact: the Ukrainian Antonov An-26, a military transport aircraft shot down above Lugansk near the village of Izvaryne on July 14 (just 3 days prior to Malaysian Airlines flight MH17) was, according to its bailed-out pilots, struck by… an air-to-air missile originating from a fighter plane! The plane was flying at an altitude of 6500 m at the time it was hit, far beyond the reach of most man-portable air-defence systems (MANPADS). Even before the MH17 disaster this event lead to speculation in the Western media about the possibility of the east-Ukrainian rebels possessing more sophisticated anti-air weapons.

    And while we’re at it, lets just mention some other evidence which was the basis of Brown Moses’ fancy theories.

    By all accounts the Paris Match photo could easily have been photo-shopped (what is the crazy substance on the windshield, conveniently positioned to only blur the main subject?). That by itself makes this piece of evidence next to worthless. It should also be noted that Paris Match didn’t even mention the right location the photo was taken. They later admitted the error, but still refused to correct it.

  7. paulo

    @ timmi October 14th, 2014
    Secondly, there is also in Russian media one eyewitness who has announced the launch of a rocket observed. However one has yet thought at that time, it would be a AN26 been shot down.

    Eine Antonow An-26 sei gegen 16.00 Uhr über die Stadt geflogen, erzählte ein Augenzeuge RIA Novosti. „Wir haben gesehen, dass eine Rakete das Flugzeug getroffen und eine Explosion ausgelöst hat.“ Die Maschine habe schwarzen Rauch hinter sich hergezogen und sei schließlich auf den Boden gestürzt.

    Is the witness referring to this shootdown ?

    well that plane was not mh 17.

    „Wir haben gesehen, dass eine Rakete das Flugzeug getroffen und eine Explosion ausgelöst hat.“

    The witness saw the missile hit the plane at 10000m ?
    From an aircraft or from the ground ?
    Why doesn´t the witness mention the smoke trail as expected from a buk launch ?

    • bellingcatadmin

      This video containing what’s reportedly extracts from Zello conversations from people in the area do describe smoke trails and missile launches

      What appears to be the original video, uploaded on July 23rd

      The above link contains the Open Newsroom discussion of the video.

  8. Nobody

    Sorry Mr. Higgins, but maybe you should discontinue comments if you don’t want pushback from readers that you’re knocking down the straw man of cannon and only cannon fire taking down MH17 — which is part of a larger straw men whereby your Interpreter Mag colleagues and the entire mainstream media desperately insisted all of Ukraine’s Su-25s are old junk incapable of reaching 30,000 feet or having to cruise at the same alttitude as an airliner in order to shoot one down.

    Now if the Russians find a simulated old Tupolev drone to shoot down with one of their Su-25TMs simulating a Ukrainian Su-25M1 variant that can easily punch above 30,000 feet (at least for a little while) with R-77 anti-air missiles, and the fuselage wreckage looks very similar to MH17, your narrative is screwed!

    As it is, WikiSpooks already debunked your ‘scoop! NEW photos of Russian Buks in Russia that can magically be matched to the ‘separatist Buk’ photographed on July 17!

    Despite heroic propaganda efforts, the Ukrainian government poisoned the well from which Brown Moses photo analyziing efforts dip. At least three of the Ukrainian released photos are proven fakes — one in Krasnoarmeysk which Higgins Interpreter Magazine colleagues in New York City tried and failed to prove could have been taken near Torez, and the infamous ‘312’ launcher which was photographed moving east through then Ukrainian held Gorlovka on March 5. Given Mr. Higgins astute attention to details he is aware of all these facts contradicting his Buk narrative, and also aware that no one has produced photos of the Buk launch plume that day. He just doesn’t care because mainstream media love Higgins for propping up their narrative in Syria and in Ukraine.
    BBC Russian service — taken by BBC because local eyewitnesses reported seeing fighter jets near the MH17 crash site — but never debunked by Interpreter Mag or Ukraine at War’s heroic propaganda efforts to prove these babushkas and old men interviewed are all Kremlin plants
    Russian Union of Engineers and air defense officers report
    WikiSpooks entire aggregated evidence about MH17 examining all theories, including that the separatists or Russian military did it and comparing to actual (missing) evidence. Also debunks Interpreter Mag’s insistence that ‘the rebels admitted they did it in a phone call taped by Ukraine’s SBU’ because the crash sites don’t match up, suggesting Ukraine’s SBU spliced and diced audio recorded about a previous Ukrainian plane shoot down rather than from the day MH17 went down into the tape. WikiSpooks also blows Brown Moses/Higgins claims that some blurred white stuff on the side of Russian Buks perfectly matches with the Ukrainian photos released of Ukrainian Buks taken months before MH17 went down somehow proves MH17 was shot down directly by Russian military — a point directly contradicted by White House sources that downplayed any direct evidence of Russian involvelment! So either the Obama White House is lying to ease tensions, or Brown Moses is mistaken or lying about MH17!

    • bellingcatadmin

      While I can’t spend all day pointing out errors and missing facts in the entire Wikispooks piece, I can say a few things about the pieces on our work.
      First, it claims about the Paris Match photograph “but Bellingcat does not appear to have geolocated these or the Paris-Match video-frame.” We in fact find the exact position the Paris Match photograph was taken (here), Paris Match also confirmed it was taken in the morning of July 17th in Donetsk, as we said.

      The time, location, and date of the Torez photograph, which they attempt to dismiss because of the clear sky, was confirmed when the Guardian and Buzzfeed visited the location we identified and interviewed locals.

      Bellingcat has only referred to the SBU’s Buk photographs when we’ve highlighted they were taken in March, and we verify the exact location the video posted by the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior shared here and here.

      I could go on, but it’s clear WikiSpooks are misrepresenting and ignoring key information.

  9. Nobody

    You mad Higgins the hundreds of journalists supposedly reading your site every day for intel will see links to articles that prove you and your in the tank for Kiev colleagues at Interpreter Mag are frauds?

  10. Rob

    I just read a publication of the parents of Mo, 12, Evie, 10 and Otis, 8, who were returned to Australian soil last Thursday.

    I have 4 kids myself, and cannot imagine loosing one of them.
    I vowed to them, that their lives were not lost in vain.

    That I would do anything I can to find out how this could have happened, who did it, and why.

    And that I will do anything I can to help show that MH17 and all the 298 victims (193 of my fellow citizens) show that this insane war in East Ukraine has to stop.

    In this context, I find it deeply insulting that the Russian media (as in this video above), and even the Russian Defense Ministry (as in their July 21 press conference) IGNORE the bulk of evidence and resort instead to transparant conspiracy theories that don’t even pass the laughing test.


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