by and for citizen investigative journalists

Geolocating the Missile Launcher Linked to the Downing of MH17

July 17, 2014

By Eliot Higgins

Shortly after reports of flight MH17 being shot down in Ukraine began emerging, the following video was posted online, claiming to show a Buk missile launcher travelling through Snizhne, a rebel held town near the Russian border.

The original video was quickly deleted from YouTube for unknown reasons, but one lesson to learn earlier on with any video of interest is to immediately download it.  A variety tools are available to do this, including Keepvid, which I used in this instance.

The obvious question is whether or not this is actually Snizhne, so the first thing to do is see if there’s any obvious landmarks in the video.  In this case, the road is a dual-carriageway with trees in the middle, and looking at satellite images from Snizhne it seems quite unusual.  I shared the video with my Twitter followers, asking if anyone could find the area (crowd-sourcing these things can be useful), and quickly several people pointed to an area south of the center of Snizhne

bukmap1

The road appeared to share the same layout, with the trees in the middle, and had the slight turn visible in the video.  Based off this, it seemed the camera would have to be north of the road, facing south.  Aside from the road layout, something else stood out in the video, the height of the camera.  It was clear the camera was positioned much higher than the buildings to the south, suggesting it was either on a hill or on top of a tall building.  To test this, I used the ground-level view option in Google Earth, and positioned the cursor on the road, facing north, towards the camera

bukmap2

It seemed the only hills in the area were far in the distance, and by examining the map I was able to see apartment buildings to the north of the road

bukmap3

Based on that I now had the approximate position of the camera, and I was able to identify other features I would expect to see from that vantage point.  First, three trees positioned to the north of the bend in the road

bukmap4 bukmap5

South of the bend it’s possible to identify two junctions on the road, points 1 and 2, with one tree visible between the junction on both the video and map.  At point 3 the red roof of a house is also visible in both the video and satellite map

bukmap6 bukmap7

Based on this information it seems likely that this is the correct location of what’s claimed to by the Buk missile launcher, heading south away from Snizhne.  Based on initial information about the location of the crash site, it appears this location was around 10-15km of the crash site.

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 investigations tools and techniques.

11 Comments

  1. John Bartram

    No doubt in my mind; the system consists of 3 mobile units – radar, command & control, and launcher. Only the 3rd, the launch, seems to have been used in this case. When all three are used, the radar unit would have provided good data on the aircraft, but without it, the launcher is capable to selecting a target by itself, even if the missile has been targeted differently. That is, by itself, it could have been targeted on a near aircraft, launched, then recognising a bigger target at high altitude, aimed at that instead. I am not saying this happened, just mentioning how the launcher itself is designed to work as one part of a larger system, and as it was without the radar and command units, its performance would be less under control.

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  2. Hamish

    Gotta hope the person who took the video has skipped town and got the heck out of there. They’ll be looking through houses immediately around the area where this was filmed, god help anyone who lives there. Pretty ballsy to have first posted it, hats off to whoever they are. Brave, bold and right.

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  3. TellYouWhat

    If Snizhne is the launch point, just infront of MH17, the damage on the left side makes no sense. Have a look on the flight directions of the shrapnells.

    Reply
  4. Baskakov Dmitriy

    What I want to say, it still looks weak. First — in order to completely verify the location, you have to go to Snizhne and take a photo from there.

    Second (and the main point)… How do you know it’s Buk missile launcher? The video resolution isn’t big enough to clearly see what type of military vehicle it is.

    Reply

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