Earlier this week, the aerodrome of Novofedorivka in Crimea was the scene of several large explosions and considerable damage. Some initially thought it was a Ukrainian strike on ammunition bunkers, which was a perfectly acceptable conclusion with the evidence at the time. Now that we have the satellite image of the next day, we can see two intact ammo bunkers, but three large craters in a jet parking area. So what happened here? (And contrary to the title, I’m obviously not sure)
Let’s start with our most concrete evidence. We have 3 very large craters about the same size as Elliot Higgens on Twitter estimates to be 25-30 meters in diameter. We also have video of the explosions and we already see a lot of smoke spreading in the distance before the first pair of explosions occur. We then see two large fireballs simultaneously. A video shows a third large fireball, but the video is edited, so it’s hard to tell by how much. The videos can be found below. Note that the first photo is his guess that the explosions came from the two ammunition bays. The latest satellite shows that assumption to be wrong, so just ignore that part. Watch the videos.
We also have the last satellite passing 4 hours before the explosions below. I put arrows indicating where the three craters will form. If you look closely, it’s possible that those fuzzy shapes where the craters will be are tanker trucks.
The rest of the aftermath satellite images show no other obvious craters that I could see. Certainly nothing of the size of what we see here. There is severe damage to several buildings and widespread fire damage.
So what caused these craters? If Elliot Higgens is correct with his 25-30 meter estimate, then no ammunition known to Ukraine could have been the cause. For comparison, the US Mark 84 bomb weighs 2039 pounds with 945 pounds of explosives and creates a 15 meter crater (on average). The largest Ukrainian munition with the range to get here that we know of is the Hrim-2 which has a 1,100 pound warhead. It’s bigger than the Mark 84, but not big enough to make a 25 meter crater. The Hrim-2 is also under development and is not confirmed to be active.
But let’s assume for the moment that it is active. First we would need to explain the size of the crater, how this missile can cause a much larger crater than expected. Next, we have to explain a really curious selection of targets. If this is a “cluster” demonstrating the relative accuracy of the missile, why did they attack this section? Did they miss those planes parked together? Possible. And with such large explosions, it’s not really a miss. But why three missiles when one would do? Why not also attack the ammunition bunkers or the fuel park? We also have no evidence of incoming missiles in video, visual or audio. That doesn’t preclude that our sources were just the wrong angle or lacking in some way, but it doesn’t help the Hrim-2 theory either. Finally, it would still be necessary to explain the significant release of smoke before the first explosions. Presumably a fourth, smaller missile whose crater we cannot find? Not impossible but I’m not convinced.
Some people have put forward the idea that it was ammunition explosions. In the video, we see large fireballs of black smoke with no “fireworks” indicating the ammo is cooking. Go compare it to previous videos and the ones that these fireballs look the most like would be the fuel drop shots.
So could it be tanker trucks? We see what could be tanker trucks in the image before the explosion. Do tank trucks explode with that much force and fireball? Watch the video below. Watch throughout. The initial fire is not the explosion, which comes in the middle. Then they show the crater, complicated to be on a bridge, but still impressive. Intended for an informed public.
I would say certainly plausible. I certainly think this is more likely than previously unknown Ukrainian ammunition, or known ammunition with a larger crater that is difficult to explain. Simultaneous explosions should be dealt with, but it can also be coincidence. Yes, sometimes random events seem coordinated because sometimes that is what random outcomes are.
But if it’s tanker trucks, what triggered it? Now we are in much more speculative territory. As seen in the Italy truck video, a tank truck can burn before it explodes. It is therefore possible that the first smoke came from 2 or 3 tankers on fire. The first two explosions are simultaneous, so whatever triggered them must have affected at least two of them at the same time.
Let’s start with the simplest possible explanation. The Russians had a fuel spill in this area and a cigarette butt set it on fire. I worked on the loading and unloading of 767 cargo planes. I was present when a K-loader (used to load planes) passed over a raised part of the tarmac which blew a hole in the bottom of the loader. The fuel came out quickly and spread quickly. Cleaning up a fuel spill is neither easy nor quick. We cleaned it up by laying down some material to absorb it, then sweeping it up. If an ignition source had been present, we would have been in trouble. Especially with a 767 overhead. And it was a very small spill. If a tanker has a serious spill, it would be much more dangerous. Personally, I think this is the simplest and most likely cause. Related scenarios would be a grass fire, old leaking oil drums, or an accident while loading ammunition onto an airplane.
But it is possible that these are Ukrainian special operations. While there are a number of different ways they can fire up these tankers, the easiest would probably be a switchblade drone or two. A single switch could target a nearby plane, starting a fire that would spread to parked tankers. A double switch could have two switches hitting the tankers at around the same time, resulting in the subsequent explosions. Provide your own reasons why Ukraine chose the hypothetical targets it chose. A relatively simple consumer drone with nothing more than a hand grenade crashing into something explosive is also possible. Yes, it could have been done by a 16 year old. Imagine what it would be like for her (or him/them).
Finally, it could have been a single missile strike resulting in secondary tanker explosions. It would most likely be a smaller missile as we don’t see any obvious craters, so maybe there were none. Neptune and HARM both have range and their ammo size is not important in this scenario. There are other possible systems such as Hrim-2 which have not yet been confirmed to work. It could be an older Soviet missile, which could explain an obvious lack of targeting due to reduced accuracy. And of course, you can flip through the US Missile Buyers Guide and select one of the many options.
So what was it? I’m 90% sure it was three tanker trucks that created the craters and the big explosions. As to what triggered it, who knows. The accident scenario involves the fewest moving parts, but I can’t rule out Ukrainian action. We’ll probably have to wait until the wars are over to find out the real story (if anyone left alive does).