SensusQ analysis on the Russian Ilyushin-76 military transport aircraft destroyed in Belgorod oblast on January 24, 2024.

Rainer Pihlakas
Jan 28, 2024


The circumstances surrounding the crash of the Russian military transport aircraft IL-76MD in Belgorod Oblast on January 24 are still unclear, even on the fifth day after the incident. Firstly, SensusQ IntelLab claims it is highly unlikely that the crashed aircraft was the IL-76MD with the flight number RA-78830, as widely reported in the media. Secondly, it seems improbable that there were only three escorts for 65 prisoners of war on board the crashed aircraft. Thirdly, Russia has not yet produced any solid evidence to support the claim that there were PoWs on board the downed aircraft.

FIGURE 1 The wreckage of the destroyed Il-76MD in vicinity of Yablonovo village in Belgorod oblast.[1]

1. It is almost impossible that the crashed plane was the Il-76MD with the tail number RA-78830.

Shortly after the information about the incident appeared in the media, information began to spread that the destroyed aircraft was a Russian Il-76MD with tail number RA-78830. SensusQ IntelLab has not found a reliable source confirming the tail number RA-78830. A number of media outlets refer to OSINT specialist “Skrynka Pandori”, but “Skrynka Pandori” also stated that: “The tail number of the downed Il-76 is RA-78830 (as stated by open sources on both sides), without citing any reliable sources. [2]

On January 24, the Russian Il-76MD aircraft with the tail number RA-78830 and flight history RFF8319 was tracked on Flightradar24. At 12:31 AM UTC, it appeared on the Flightradar24 [Figure 2][3] track over the Caspian Sea, heading southeast towards Iran at a speed of 748 km/h. The aircraft vanished from the Flightradar24 track at 12:53 UTC and reappeared at 02:57 UTC, south of Iran, around 1300 km from where it was last spotted. Although the Il-76's top speed is 900 km/h, it is possible that the aircraft made a brief stop in Iran, but it is more likely that it flew through Iranian airspace at an average speed of 650 km/h.

FIGURE 2 Flightradar24: Playback of the Il76MD RA-78830 flight RFF8319 on January 24, 2024.

At approximately 3:20 am UTC, the aircraft turned west and entered Saudi Arabian airspace less than 100km north of Bahrain. At 6:10 am UTC, the IL-76MD left Saudi Arabian airspace and entered Egypt over the Sinai Peninsula. In the middle of the Sinai Peninsula, it disappeared again from Flightradar24's view at 6:20 am UTC and reappeared at 6:34 am UTC over the Mediterranean Sea, heading north. Finally, the aircraft disappeared from the Flightradar24 track at 7:10 am UTC over the Mediterranean Sea between Cyprus and Syria.

According to Russian sources, the Ukrainian PoWs were put on the plane from Chkalovsky airbase in the Moscow oblast. It is 2,350 kilometres from the Mediterranean Sea, where the Il-76 disappeared from Flightradar24. From Chkalovsky airbase to the village of Yablonovo in the Belgorod oblast is another 550 km. This will make a total of 2,900 kilometres.

The Russian Defence Ministry (MoD) stated that the Il-76 with PoWs on board was shot down at 11:15 a.m. Moscow time [4] which is UTC+3. The video of the downing of the Il-76 was posted on social media at 11:00 UTC+2. [Figure 3][5] Even if the Russian MoD is not telling the truth and the IL-76 was shot down minutes before the video appeared on the Telegram channel, it would have had only 1 hour 49 minutes to cover the 2,900 km journey, excluding the stopover time needed to pick up the PoWs on board from Chkalovsky airbase. Even a supersonic aircraft would not have been able to make the journey in that time, and the Il-76, which reportedly has a top speed of 900 km/h, even more so.

It is also unlikely that the PoWs were hoisted aboard the Il-76 before it began its long journey through Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Firstly, from the point over the Mediterranean Sea where the Il-76 disappeared from Flightradar24 to the village of Yablonovo in the Belgorod region, it is 1800 kilometres through Turkey and the hostile airspace of Ukraine. Since the downed Il-76MD was an upgraded version of the Il-76, and some modified versions have a more powerful PS-90A engine, the characteristics of which are not precisely known, it can be speculated that the aircraft could have flown somewhat faster than the unmodified Il-76. But it is still virtually impossible for an aircraft to fly through Turkish airspace with its transponder switched off and then fly through the airspace of hostile Ukraine. It is also unlikely that the Russians would have taken 65 Ukrainian PoWs with them to observe their activities during a hypothetical short landing in Iran.

SensusQ IntelLab is assessing that the downed plane in Belgorod oblast in vicinity of Yablonovo village on January 24th almost certainly was not the Il-76MD with the tail number RA-78830.

FIGURE 3 The video of the downing of the Il-76 was posted on social media at 11:00 UTC+2.[5]

2. It is highly unlikely that only three escorts were on board the Il-76 for 65 PoW.

Under the "Instruction on the Service Activities of Temporary Detention Facilities for Suspects and Accused Persons of Internal Affairs Agencies and Units for the Guarding and Escorting of Suspects and Accused Persons", enacted by Order No. 140 of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russian Federation of March 7, 2006, escorts in Russia are carried out as follows:

“Depending on the nature of the task being performed, the following are assigned to the convoy: a convoy commander (chief), an assistant convoy commander, a police dog handler and escorts. Depending on the number of escorted persons, their degree of danger and other data, the police escort can be ordinary or reinforced. An ordinary convoy is assigned based on two escorts for one or two escorted persons; three escorts for three to six escorted persons, and seven escorts for seven to ten escorted persons. An assistant convoy commander is appointed if there are five or more escorted persons in a convoy. In the case of a reinforced convoy, there must be three escorts for one escorted person; six escorts for two to four escorted persons; eight escorts for five to six escorted persons; 10 escorts for seven to eight escorted persons; 12 escorts for nine to ten escorted persons.”[6]

Therefore, to escort 65 PoWs, even if it is considered to be an ordinary convoy, there should be at least a convoy commander (chief), an assistant convoy commander, a police dog handler and more than 50 escorts. Also, Ukrainian soldier Maksim Kolesnikov, who was liberated from Russian captivity in February 2023, said: “When I was taken by plane from Bryansk to Belgorod, for every 50 prisoners, there were about 20 people from their military police.”[7]

Moreover, the names and obituaries of all six crew members were published in the Russian media. However, SensusQ IntelLab could not find the obituaries or names of any of the three escorts. The crew members were as follows:[8] [9] [10] [11] [12]

Aircraft commander - Stanislav Alekseevich Bezzubkin;
Assistant commander - Vladislav Vadimovich Chmirev;
Navigator - Alexei Anatolievich Vysokin;
Flight engineer - Andrey Leonidovich Piluev;
Flight technician - Sergey Nikolaevich Zhitenev;
Radio operator - Igor Vyacheslavovich Sablinsky.

FIGURE 4 The crew of the downed Il-76 aircraft: Vysokin, Bezzubkin, Piluev, Chmirev, Sablinsky, Zhitenev.

SensusQ IntelLab is assessing that it is highly unlikely that the convoy had been reduced to only three escorts, especially due to the risk that an overwhelming number of PoWs could have seized control of the aircraft. In addition, the lack of escort obituaries may indicate that there were no escorts on the aircraft, which effectively means there were no PoWs.

3. Russia has not released any solid evidence that PoWs were on board the downed aircraft.

Three hours after the incident, senior Russian propagandist and editor-in-chief of state-controlled outlet RT Margarita Simonyan published a list of the names of Ukrainian POWs allegedly on board the aircraft[13] [FIGURE 5]. Still, several Russian and Ukrainian sources noted that at least one of the alleged PoWs on the list, No. 22 Maksim Konovalenko, had already been exchanged during the previous PoW exchange on January 3.[14]

FIGURE 5 Margarita Simonyan published a list of the names of Ukrainian POWs allegedly on board the aircraft.

Also, the title of Simonyan’s list, “Список «65» украинских военнопленных, находившихся на борту Ил-76“ translates as “The list of "65" Ukrainian prisoners of war who were on board Il-76”, which indicates that the list was compiled after the incident, not before it.

Two days after the downing of the Il-76 aircraft, the Russians published a video that allegedly shows captured Ukrainians being escorted at the Chkalovsky Airport, but it is difficult to verify when and at which airfield the video was filmed and what is happening on it.[15] It is unclear if Russia wants to prove that there were Ukrainian PoWs on board the Il-76, and why it has not yet shown the dozens of bodies it claims died in the crash. Only one body was seen in the RT video taken at the crash site, and it was wearing a blue jumpsuit typically worn by flight crew members.[16]

SensusQ IntelLab is assessing that the Russians' failure to provide credible evidence of the presence of dead PoWs at the crash site further supports the hypothesis that there were no Ukrainian PoWs on board the destroyed Il-76.


[1] Крымский ветер: Первые фото с места падения Ил-76 в Белгородской области. Jan 2024. [Online]

[2] Скринька ➔ Пандори: Номер борту впавшого Іл-76 - RA-78830. Jan 2024. [Online]

[3] Flightradar24: Playback of flight RFF8319. [Online] Jan 2024.

[4] Минобороны России: Сегодня в 11 часов 15 минут киевским режимом совершен террористический акт … Jan 2024. [Online]

[5] 112: Момент падения военно-транспортного самолета Ил-76 в селе Яблоново в Белгородской области. Jan 2024. [Online]

[6] РИА Новости: Правила конвоирования подозреваемых и обвиняемых в совершении преступлений. Mar 2020 [Online]

[7] Max Kolesnikov; А ось перша 100% брехня про Іл…. Jan 2024. [Online][Online]

[8] Mash: Командир сбитого Ил-76. Jan 2024. [Online]

[9] Стали известны личности членов экипажа сбитого под Белгородом Ил-76: родственники подтвердили гибель. Фото. Jan 2024. [Online]

[10] «Это был лучший отряд в дивизии»: в Оренбуржье близкие и коллеги вспоминают погибших при крушении ИЛ-76 членов экипажа. Jan 2024. [Online]

[11] РИА Новости: Один из летчиков сбитого Ил-76 с детства мечтал о небе. Jan 2024. [Online]

[12] «Все боялись подойти, а Сережа надел противогаз и прыгнул в яму»: погибший оренбургский летчик спас жизнь человеку. Jan 2024. [Online]

[13]Маргарита Симоньян: Список украинских военнопленных на борту разбившегося ИЛ-76. Jan 2024. [Online]

[14]Ukrainska Pravda: Already-swapped soldier is on Russian propagandist's list of alleged captives involved in Il-76 crash. Jan 2024. [Online]

[15] Ukrainska Pravda: Already-swapped soldier is on Russian propagandist's list of alleged captives involved in Il-76 crash. Jan 2024. [Online]

[16] Russia Today. Jan 2024. [Online]

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