How maker of the plume photo and his friend did the geolocation of launch spot ?

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Minutes after the launch of the BUK missile which destroyed MH17 killing all 298 on board, a serie of photos was made of what appeared later to be the smoke plume of the missile.

These photos were made by Pavel Aleynikov, a Torez resident. He lived in a flat and ran to his balcony when he heard a loud bang. As photography is his hobby, his camera was closeby.

The balcony overlooks the area south of Torez.

This post is not about these photos. There has been a lot of discussion if these photos were faked. There is no indication these photos are indeed faked.In fact, JIT presented a second photo showing white smoke of what likely was made by the BUK missile. The origin of the white smoke matches the origin of the smoke on the photos made by Aleynikov. Also the shadows matches with the likely time the missile was fired.

Aleynikov together with an anonymous friend using Twitter handle Wowihay were able to dermine the location the smoke plume originated from within 12 hours after the launch.

Aleynikov/Wowihay were not the only persons who found out quickly about the area where the missile was launched from. The admin of the website Ukraineatwar, nowadays called Putinatwar, at July 21 2014 published this blogpost. It points to the same location. The admin was most likely helped by Aleynikov/Wowihay.

Based on the post of Ukraineatwar, The Telegraph journalist Roland Oliphant went to the field where the smoke was coming from. See this youtube video.

Aleynikov stated he used a Zello conversation to geolocate the origin of the smoke. Zello is an app for mobile phones which is used in Ukraine as a sort of walkie-talkie.

One of the persons involved in the Zello conversation say she saw a missile fly overhead. She was located in October (written as Октябре) .

Ukraineatwar published the conversation here.

[2:25] woman B
Guys! I’ve just listened to the story… (sigh) Right then, I was at the garden, at Oktyabr’ (no Wikimapia link available) sound, out of nowhere, there was droning sound. It was silent right before that, and then suddenly there was loud droning sound… I [looked] at the sky, err, something was flying… well, I, I can’t tell for sure, well, from that direction, it was flying as if from Saurivka [Wikimapia-link]. I thought it was a missile, ran inside the house, shouted to my mom, well, after we went down to the basement, only then did we hear some bangs, explosions.
But it was flying and smoking—with a white smoke—and strong buzzing loudly above Oktyabr’ flying there, you know, to… towards the town, in that direction.

The location of Oktyabr’ (October) gave a lot of confusion. There is a small village south of Snizhne (written as Сніжне  ) called Chervonyi Zhovten’ (Red October). However the missile could not have flown overhead Red October if launched from the location Joint Investigation Team concluded.

This is the flightpath of the missile assuming it flew in a straight line. The BUK missile is guided by a computer in the TELAR to hit at a meeting point. The meeting point is based on speed and heading of target. As MH17 did not change course or speed, it is assumed the missile flew in a straight line (as the crow flies) from launch point to the location where the MH17 FDR recorded the last position.

However, we cannot rule out the missile initially calculated a higher speed of the target and adjusted toward the east after launch. We just do not know enough of BUK missile guidance.

As the path shows, the missile did not fly towards Shizhne as woman B said on Zello.

The above flighmap zoomed in a bit more. The distance from flightpath to the October area of Snizhne is about 2 km. So is could well be the witness believed the missile was flying towards Snizhne but in fact was more south west.

Bellingcat stated the position of this Zello lady was near Red October (Красный Октябрь) as locals seems to call the small village of  Chervonyi Zhovten’ . See the image below. Bellingcat never explained why they concluded the witness was living there. Most likely because the farm is at a road with October in the name. It can be seen here.

This location is about 3 km southwest of the location the witness most likely was, in an area of Snizhne.

October is likely a part of the city of Snizhne. While there is no neighborhod which is officially called October, locals use to nickname parts of town based on a streetname.


At July 18, around  4:27 am local time at Torez Wowihay  sent the Tweet shown below. His line of sight pointed straight to the launch location. Which is interesting for two reasons:

  • instead of the white smoke, the black smoke was considered by Wowihay to be the orgin of the missile launch
  • Aleynikov/Wowihay must have used the information by a second source to exactly determine the distance of the launch location relative to the position of Aleynikov. Without a second source it is impossible to determine the distance of the plume.

In the evening of the 18th he tweeted he even had found a third corroborating witness.

In an interview published at Bellingcat, Wowihay states:

But in order to more accurately determine the launch location, we needed a “second line,” at the very least. We put all the effort to ringing up our acquaintances, looking for witnesses…It’s not like they fired from a Kalashnikov! We found a person whom we have unfortunately lost contact with. Back then, he specifically described where and how he noticed a white trail. Everything matched up.

This data allowed us to intersect the line of the shot and the line described by witnesses, and thus we were able to more accurately established that they fired from the territory between the villages Red October [Chervony Zhovten] and Pervomaysky.

WowihaY  at July 25 2014 explained he used Zello as a help to geolocate the launch location.

WowihaY  explained in June 23 2017 in a Tweet 2017 about the area of Snizhne. Indicated by the settlement October white block below. 

In this Twitter conversation locals are talking about a former school #12 in Snizhne located here:
Coordinates are 48.008°N 38.765°E.

This Wikimapia map shows there are streets in the area with October (Октябре) in the name. For example Oktyabr’skaya street


There seems to be multiple area’s in Snizhne which use October in the name of the area.

A search for “районе Октября Снежное” (area October Snizhne) presents several hits.

For example the area/street called “площадь_50-летия_Октября‘ (50th Anniversary October ‘)

50 anniversay october is a some small grass area/ roundabout in Snizhne. It is in the lower part of the red box.

A comment by user Vam indicates October area is also 3 km north of center of Snizhne.


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7 Comments on How maker of the plume photo and his friend did the geolocation of launch spot ?

  1. Michael Kobs // June 23, 2017 at 6:50 pm // Reply

    3 remarks
    1) Aleinikov gave the photos to WowihaY and Wowihay did the geolocation during the night allegedly with the help of an unknown witness.
    2) the 2nd plume picture is obviously a videoframe from an observation camera since other images are known from exactly the same spot on different days. Nevertheless, the 2nd plume image was found 2 years later and was also brought to light via WowihaY. That late finding is suspicious, since the footage of an observation camera should have been examined immediately after the extraordinary incident.
    3) The 2nd plume image provides no shadows to determine the time the image was taken. In contrast, the Aleinikov photo shows some direct sunlight that allows to determine of the azimuth of the sun.

    • >… the 2nd plume image was found 2 years later… That late finding is suspicious, since the footage of an observation camera should have been examined immediately after the extraordinary incident.

      Actually, these circumstances rather indicate a fake than confirm the authenticity of Aleinikov’s photos. The more so given the conflicting stories by Aleinikov and WowihaY/Dyukov (see my comment of June 23).

  2. WowihaY’s name is Vladimir Dyukov. In that piece of his interview (see the post) he said nothing about Zello. He only said that he and his friend-photographer [Pavel Aleynikov] found another man who had seen “a white trail”.

    Dyukov’s interview is remarkable as his account of how the photo of the plume had emerged is fundamentally flawed and does not match Aleynikov’s account. According to Aleynikov’s two interviews, he heard two loud bangs, looked into the window and saw a plume of white smoke being spread by the wind. In one interview, he took photos of the plume from his balcony; in another interview, he did it from the roof. In any case, he took exactly the photos of the plume.

    But Dyukov tells a different (and weird) story. In that interview (, 25.07.2015, translated by Bellingcat), the journalist asks: “How did you discover the rocket’s trail?”
    Dyukov: … At 7:18 pm I was in contact with my friend – the same one who took the photo from his balcony. Having looked at the image more closely, he noticed an important detail: on the opposite side from the Boeing crash site, there was a strange vertical column of grey-whitish smoke visible, very similar to the trails of a launched missile. The smoke was barely visible, so my friend didn’t even pay attention to it. But he saved the photo in the “RAW” file format, i.e. without any distortions caused by software or hardware compression of an image file, and then, as he said, after a little bit of editing of the brightness, he could “bring the trail to light.”

    Thus, “the smoke was barely visible, so my friend didn’t even pay attention to it.” Then, what did he photograph? Why did he bother to take the second picture, without cables?

  3. Local names of districts are the easiest to find out by the advertisements about the sale of real estate. This announcement of the sale of the house says
    The house is located 3 km from the center of Snezhnoe, in the area of October.
      The map shows Chkalov street 28, 48.039419, 38.767972. This is the other end of the city, in the north of Snezhnoye

  4. If the trail went from the south horizon to 60° tilt angle southwest (where got hidden beyond clouds), the observer who was not realizing the missile was rising and not just flying horizontally, might easily think it was directed northwards.

  5. For me personally there is no question that the photo is genuine or the geolocation is correct, simply what day it was taken. Since it is known that the an Su-25 was downed in the region around the same time the day before.

    Of course Ukraine claims the Su-25 was downed by a missile from Russia. Just like it claims that an apartment building being destroyed by air attack in Snizhne the day before was a Russian plane. And like it claims an Antonov downed near Lugansk the day before was from a missile from a Russian plane. It is just an immense pity that Ukraine seems unable to maintain a functional radar service in the midst of all these appalling cross border incursions that would allow such claims to be tested

    I believe the plume photo was uploaded to the social media twitter account of a third person – along with some of the more distressing photos of the victims – that very evening. IE within a few hours. I hope the JIT has made it part of its business to document how these information flows happened. As in interesting insight into the mindset of some of the pro-Kiev social media people, this twitter user expressed sorrow for the victims but did hope that the incident would result in some kind of intervention by the international community on behalf of Kiev.

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