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 SkySat operated by the San Francisco company Planet snapped this photo of the site in northwestern Russia where a plane presumed to be carrying Russian warlord Yevgeny Prighozin went down on Aug. 23, 2023. The photo was taken on Aug. 24. (Image credit: Planet Labs PBC)

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.

Related: Russia's invasion of Ukraine as seen in satellite photos

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.

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).

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.