You can listen to the third episode of the Bellingcat Podcast on the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), “The Murder Weapon”, by subscribing on any major podcast application by searching “Bellingcat”, including at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and TuneIn. You can manually add the podcast RSS feed to your favorite podcast app with the URL: bellingcat.libsyn.com/rss
If you enjoy the podcast, be sure to check out our Patreon, where we will upload bonus materials from the podcast to our subscribers over next few months.
At 14:19 Dutch time, on 17 July 2014, shrapnel tears through the bodies of the two pilots and one crew member, killing them instantly. There’s no mayday call. No attempt to maneuver. Hear the shocking details of MH17’s final moments as it breaks up at 33,000 feet.
Hear from journalist Jeroen Akkemans who visits the crash site and finds shrapnel and missile parts. Independent analysis of one of these pieces of metal reveals part of a serial number written in Cyrillic. Investigators are left with no doubt that this is part of a Russian-made Buk surface to air missile system.
Eliot and his Bellingcat team use their open source investigative techniques to trace a suspicious military convoy containing a Buk heading towards the town of Snizhne, Ukraine. The convoy is traced back to Kursk, Russia. The Buk is also identified as being part of Russia’s 53rd Anti Aircraft Brigade. The evidence suggesting that Russia provided the weapon that ended the lives of the 298 people onboard MH17 is damning.
Our guests in episode 3 of the podcast described their experience with the downing of MH17 related to the launch site and debris. You can read some of their early reports on these topics here:
Jeroen Akkermans: Evidence proving that flight MH-17 was taken down by a BUK missile (RTL Nieuws19 March 2015)
Christopher Miller: ‘It felt like the end of the world’: How MH17 was brought down (Mashable, 15 July 2015)
Roland Oliphant: MH17: The clues which may lead to missile launch site (The Telegraph, 22 July 2014)
The Convoy Creeping Across Ukraine
Throughout July 17, 2014, witness accounts poured in throughout social networks from Ukrainians who observed a very visible, and very loud, convoy moving from Donetsk to Snizhne. This convoy was hardly a secret — the Russian-led separatists led a convoy with a Buk-M1 TELAR across the most trafficked road in the area (the N21 highway) and literally blared a siren to clear the way through populated towns in eastern Ukraine.
You can see the Buk being hauled by a Volvo truck, along with its companion escort vehicles, in a dashcam video recorded in Makiivka below, starting at 0:41:
Bellingcat’s extensive work detailing the Buk convoy that moved through eastern Ukraine in the hours before the MH17 shootdown, and the witness accounts attached to them, can be found below in order of their publication:
- Geolocating the Missile Launcher Linked to the Downing of MH17 (17 July 2014)
- Identifying the Location of the MH17 Linked Missile Launcher From One Photograph (18 July 2014)
- Tracking the Vehicle that Transported the MH17 Buk (30 June 2015)
- MH17 In Their Own Words: Witness Testimonies on Social Media from July 17, 2014 (16 July 2015)
- Interview with “WowihaY,” the Man Who Narrated MH17 as it Happened (27 July 2015)
- Separatist Convoy Linked to MH17 Buk Transport (4 March 2016)
- Possible new sighting of MH17 Buk convoy on July 17th 2014 in Ukraine (12 May 2016)
- New Google Earth Satellite Update Confirms Presence of Buk in Eastern Ukraine (22 June 2016)
- JIT Publishes New Photograph of Buk 332 from Day of MH17 Downing (19 October 2017)
- New MH17 Photograph Geolocated to Donetsk (20 October 2017)
Check for Yourself
You can still find some of the witness accounts describing the Buk moving through eastern Ukraine that were shared before the shootdown of MH17. Using Twitter’s Advanced Search, try searching for all tweets that had both the word Buk (бук) and the town of Torez (Торез) before midnight on July 18, 2014. Unfortunately, Twitter does not allow for an hour-by-hour search, so the best we can do is up to the end of July 17th.
Your search query should look something like this: бук торез until:2014-07-18
You can also find the Buk that downed MH17 on satellite imagery taken almost exactly five hours before the downing.
Download Google Earth Pro (application, not web interface) and load up the program. After that, put in coordinates for the location of the Buk in Makiivka — you can manually enter the coordinates into the Search box on the top-left, 48.020433, 37.990787, as seen below.
After you find the right location, you will need to find the right time, as the default satellite image is the more recent one (August 2017) would obviously not show us the Buk in question. Go to View in the menu bar (in both Windows and Mac), and then choose Historical Imagery.
This will create a small timeline on the top-left corner of the image, allowing you to travel through Google’s available satellite imagery for this location. If you go back to July 2014, you can find the road in Makiivka as it appeared on 11:08am on July 17, 2014 — just five hours before the downing of MH17. Note that the date may appear as 7/16/2014 or 7/18/2014 for you, depending on what your local time zone is set to and how your Google Earth Pro time is calibrated.
Below, you can see each of these vehicles as they appeared just about 1 minute before, as recorded in a dashcam video. When studying the satellite image, note the shadow of the Buk on the white Volvo truck being casted on the road, revealing its presence despite the fact that the satellite image was taken almost directly above the scene.
Preview: Episode 4 Summary
28 September 2016 – the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team issues a statement calling for assistance in finding the identities of a number of men they believe to be responsible for downing MH17.
Eliot and his colleagues set to work seeking to unmask the separatists and their Russian handlers who, to date, have only been known by their code names. It turns out that the separatists all use mobile phones, but little do they know that the Ukrainian SBU secret service has been listening in. The SBU release a treasure trove of intercepted calls filled with furtive individuals making all manner of shady plans.
Bellingcat journalists find the contact details of potential suspects and secretly record phony calls with them. Independent experts examine the calls and use voice recognition software to compare them to the SBU intercepts. We have a match. Bellingcat are able to crack the code names and expose the first three men believed to be responsible for downing MH17.