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Bellingcat Podcast: MH17, Episode 3 Guide: The Murder Weapon

July 31, 2019

By Bellingcat Podcast

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.

Episode Description

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 

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:

 

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

If you choose “Latest” as an option, you can scroll down to the bottom of the search results to find the very first tweets mentioning Buk and Torez, posted four hours before the MH17 downing.

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.

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23 Comments

  1. Vladimir

    Ummm,tricky. So who do we believe? The innumerable weather records saying the day was overcast or this image that has magically appeared in Google Earth?

    Americans!

    Reply
    • Eliot Higgins

      If you actually look at the hour by hour weather records and weather satellite imagery of the area on the day you’ll see in the morning and early afternoon the area along the route of the Buk missile launcher was relatively clear of cloud, and as the day went on it became progressively more cloudy. By the time MH17 was shot down the whole area was covered in cloud.

      Reply
      • Carlos

        How do you explain the overcast sky at the Snizhne video, but also shadows that point to 12:45 local time? Why didn’t you do a shadow casting analysis to establish the exact time?

        Reply
      • Vladimir

        Well I beg to differ on what the weather records say, but as Upton Sinclair says- never try to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.

        My issues are
        1. How frequent are captures in this area? It is a long time since I checked on this but it used to be months or years between captures. What are the odds that you can match a thirty second video with a satellite photo using Google Earth resources. I am sure the Pentagon has vastly better coverage.

        2. No one has reported this in the last five years, coorect? What motivated you to suddenly go looking for it?

        Don’t get me wrong I am sure the photo is genuine, just that it comes from military reconnaissance. So we can’t be sure if the Pentagon didn’t falsely report the date when it was handed over to Google, in the last few weeks.

        Reply
        • Eliot Higgins

          The satellite imagery from July 17th 2014 has been on the Digital Globe catalogue since shortly after it was taken, and has been on Google Earth for the last two or three years, so guess again. It was also taken at 11:08am local time, before the area became cloudy, something you can check against historical weather satellite imagery if you’re actually seriously interested in this area of the investigation.

          Reply
  2. Ton Hermens

    If the whole area was covered in cloud, how is it possible that someone saw a plane on 11 kilometers hight? You can’t hear one on that hight, can you? I Know that the BUK-convoy has an own radar-system, when they spot a plane on that hight, do they also spot the responder of the civilian plane?
    And another question, how many times are BUK-missiles launched during the crisis there? Is there a list of all planes that are shooted down with a mention of used missile/rocket/otherwise?
    I’m from The Netherlands, English is not my first language, so excuses for bad language. With kind regards, Ton Hermens

    Reply
    • Andrey

      >> how is it possible that someone saw a plane on 11 kilometers hight?

      Why the question? The BUK crew don’t need to see optically a target.

      >> do they also spot the responder of the civilian plane?

      No

      Reply
    • KimmoK

      >If the whole area was covered in cloud, how is it possible that someone saw a plane on 11 kilometers hight?

      The area on the direction where MH17 came from was less cloudy.
      We do not yet have confirmed info of how the russian BUK crew got the info about what to target at.

      > I Know that the BUK-convoy has an own radar-system, when they spot a plane on that hight, do they also spot the responder of the civilian plane?

      BUK IFF system can detect if target sends “friendly” transponder signal.
      Civilian transponder signal is not detected or treated as “unfriendly”.

      But full BUK system with 360degree radar and command post can acquire full knowledge of the airspace and therefore better detect civilians. Possibly it also has capability to link to civilian SSR information to exactly know where civilians fly.

      >And another question, how many times are BUK-missiles launched during the crisis there? Is there a list of all planes that are shooted down with a mention of used missile/rocket/otherwise?

      Before MH17, BUK missile was not launched on the area. Previous downings were done by other means. (rebels bragged about a BUK, though)

      For details, you should look at DSB final report.
      https://www.onderzoeksraad.nl/en/page/3546/crash-mh17-17-july-2014

      Reply
  3. Alena

    Very very beautiful words / sounds. Like im in the theatre and the information make me believe that Russia did this. Shame. No objective view, only attempt to say “yes, it was Russia”

    Reply
    • Sykes

      Indeed, when there’s abundance of facts pointing towards Russia’s guilt, Russia’s last defense is to say there’s “just too many facts”.

      Reply
  4. Mark

    Vague facts vague evidence….my personal opinion is that the flight MH17 was shot down by the Ukrainians by mistake ….they wanted originally to shoot down Putin’s jet retuning from Brazil. Everything mentioned above is a fabricated story making Russia responsible for this horrible act of international terror.

    Reply
    • Desert rat

      Mark u are not original and have no clue what u saying.if rasha innocent then why the blocking a tribunal. If they have nothing to be worry then why not go to court and bring their evidence but u are just troll or lazy to do thinking.

      Reply
    • Andrey

      don’t be looking like a stupid person.
      Check the Putin’s plane path first. And then switch ON your brain

      Reply
    • KimmoK

      Here you can see the area where it was possible to launch a BUK missile to cause the damage we see on MH17:
      https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DhpSrjSXUAYZVBv?format=jpg

      So, in practice, it is impossible that Ukrainian military shot MH17.
      Launch must have happened from pro-russian area.

      It was confirmed by JIT in 2016 and backed up by eyewitness records and launch plume photos.

      Reply
  5. Germann Arlington

    Did you notice that the video which you used in your “investigation” was produced with a CropiPic video editing app?
    [And it is not very well made]
    Were the required effects not available in the standard/builtin Windows software?
    What do you think?

    A road sign on the left side of the road @ 0:23-0:24 is very blurry but everything else is OK.

    The video and the vehicle movements seem to be very jerky, the “dash cam” seems to be moving side to side through the video too.

    Reply
    • Eliot Higgins

      We contacted the uploader and received the original video, which is longer, uncropped, and high resolution, providing many more details for verification. We also got them in touch with the JIT show they could share their evidence directly.

      Reply
  6. Neatherlands fan from far north :)

    I see russian trolls are pushing hard to influence the opinion about the investigation quality here. If you were same eager to invest your time into Russia wellbeing then the country wouldn´t be in feudal period and wouldn´t have to attack neighbouring countries to justify the rulers and oligarhs greed and corruption.

    Reply

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