Wreckage of Russian warlord's plane spotted from space (satellite photo)

 a satellite photo of a plane crash site surrounding by grassy fields and trees, with 20 or so vehicles nearby.
a satellite photo of a plane crash site surrounding by grassy fields and trees, with 20 or so vehicles nearby.

A satellite has spotted the wreckage of the plane that went down in northwestern Russia on Wednesday (Aug. 23), apparently with Russian warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin on board.

The plane, an executive jet built by Brazilian company Embraer, was flying from Moscow to St. Petersburg when it went down. Prigozhin was on the passenger list, as were some other top-level members of the Wagner Group, the private military company that Prighozin led. There were no survivors, according to Russian officials.

On Thursday (Aug. 24), a satellite operated by San Francisco-based company Planet snapped a photo of the crash site, which is a grassy area surrounded by trees. The destroyed plane is clearly visible in the shot, as are several dozen vehicles, which are likely part of the recovery and investigative effort.

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That investigation is very much open at the moment, as the cause of the crash remains unknown. But it may not have been an accident.

"The Baza news outlet, which has good sources among law enforcement agencies, reported that investigators were focusing on a theory that one or two bombs may have been planted on board," Reuters reported on Thursday.

U.S. officials also consider a strike by a surface-to-air missile a possibility at this point, Reuters added.


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Foul play would certainly not be shocking, given the nature of Prighozin's work — and the strange and dramatic turn it took recently.

The Wagner Group has long acted as an arm of the Russian military, fighting in a number of conflicts around the world, including the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. In late June, however, Prighozhin led a mutiny against the Russian armed forces and threatened to march his troops on Moscow.

Prighozin ended up standing down from that threat, but the rebellion certainly complicated his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I had known Prigozhin for a very long time, since the start of the '90s," Putin said during televised remarks after the plane crash, according to Reuters. "He was a man with a difficult fate, and he made serious mistakes in life."

Planet is best known for its constellation of Dove cubesats, which can resolve features as small as 10 feet (3 meters) on Earth's surface. But Thursday's photo was taken by a SkySat, a minifridge-sized craft with even sharper eyes: SkySats have a resolution of about 28 inches (72 centimeters).