Residents of the town had told them that a lot of military equipment had been passing through the town. But this particular bulky machine was hard to miss. It moved on tracks that leave tread marks in the asphalt pavement. Such tracks were still visible
The journalists' write that the vehicles stopped in front of them, a man with a Russian accept checked to make sure they were not filming the convoy; and they they moved on. They write:
"Three hours later, people six miles (10 kilometers) west of Snizhne heard loud noises. And then they saw pieces of twisted metal -- and bodies -- fall from the sky."The same source says that the BUK rocket launcher moved out of the area soon after the crash and that it crossed back into Russia during the night. Other sources confirm this, one including photos of a BUK rocket launcher with two of the rockets missing.
Various officials repeatedly denied that the rebel forces had not had such equipment capable of hitting a plane flying at 30,000 feet. But these denials were repeatedly challenged by what the residents of the area said.
Finally, this week, a "highly placed rebel" spoke to the AP and admitted that they were responsible, that the unit that fired the missiles was made up of both Russians and Ukrainians. He also said that they believed that they were shooting at a Ukrainian military plane.
Ukrainian intelligence obtained from intercepted phone conversations appears to back up this claim. Ukrainian officials have placed the blame fully on Russia. They have evidence that the missile launcher came across the border from Russia on a flatbed truck around 1 am, headed for Donetsk, where it was offloaded. The launcher then continued on its own, parked in Snizhne around lunch time, then moved off in the direction that the plane debris fell.
Even before the plane was downed, the AP journalists had filed this dispatch:
"An Associated Press reporter on Thursday saw seven rebel-owned tanks parked at a gas station outside the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne. In the town, he also observed a Buk missile system, which can fire missiles up to an altitude of 22,000 meters (72,000 feet)."
"AP journalists saw the Buk moving through town at 1:05 p.m. The vehicle, which carried four 18-foot (5.5-meter) missiles, was in a convoy with two civilian cars.
"The convoy stopped. A man in sand-colored camouflage without identifying insignia — different from the green camouflage the rebels normally wear — approached the journalists. The man wanted to make sure they had not recorded any images of the missile launcher. Satisfied that they hadn't, the convoy moved on.
"About three hours later, at 4:18 p.m., according to a recording from an intercepted phone call that has been released by Ukraine's government, the Buk's crew snapped to attention when a spotter called in a report of an incoming airplane.
"'A bird is flying to you,' the spotter tells the rebel, identified by the Ukrainians as Igor Bezler, an insurgent commander who the Ukrainian government asserts is also a Russian intelligence officer.
"The man identified as Bezler responds: 'Reconnaissance plane or a big one?'
"'I can't see behind the clouds. Too high,' the spotter replies."
The authenticity of all of this cannot be independently confirmed. However, there is no reason to doubt the first hand observations of professional Associated Press journalists in the area to report on what they see. There is obvious propaganda coming from the rebel forces as well as from Putin's government in Russia.
However, I would put my trust in the AP journalists, the people of the town, and the fact that both accounts fit perfectly with what we know happened and where.