A Soviet officer who averted thermonuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union had died aged 77.
Image: Stanislav Petrov
Soon after midnight on 26 September, 1983, duty officer Stanislav Petrov was in charge of an early warning radar system in a bunker near Moscow when computer readouts suggested several missiles had been launched from the US towards the USSR.
The protocol for the Soviet military would have been to launch a retaliatory nuclear attack, but Mr Petrov decided not to alert his superiors.
“I had all the data [to suggest there was an ongoing missile attack]. If I had sent my report up the chain of command, nobody would have said a word against it,” he told the BBC’s Russian Service in 2013.
However, he suspected a computer error, believing a first-strike nuclear attack by the US would likely involve hundreds of simultaneous missile launches.
“All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders – but I couldn’t move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan,” he told the BBC.
The duty officer decided to call the Soviet army’s headquarters to report a system malfunction.
“Twenty-three minutes later I realized that nothing had happened. If there had been a real strike, then I would already know about it. It was such a relief.”
Despite receiving praise for his decision, he was also officially reprimanded for failing to describe the incident in the logbook.
In any case, the incident exposed a serious flaw in the Soviet early warning system. Petrov has said that he was neither rewarded nor punished for his actions.
According to Petrov, this was because the incident and other bugs found in the missile detection system embarrassed his superiors and the influential scientists who were responsible for it, so that if he had been officially rewarded, they would have had to be punished.