Man who averted war

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OBITUARIES - HAR­RI­SON SMITH

WHEN alarms be­gan to ring and lights on a con­trol panel flashed in front of Stanislav Petrov, a 44-yearold lieu­tenant colonel seated in a se­cret bunker south of Moscow, it ap­peared that the world was less than 30 min­utes from nu­clear war.

“The siren howled,” he said later, “but I just sat there for a few sec­onds, star­ing at the big, back-lit red screen with the word ‘launch’ on it.” His chair, he said, be­gan to feel like “a hot fry­ing pan.”

Petrov, an of­fi­cial with Rus­sia’s early-warn­ing mis­sile sys­tem, was charged with de­ter­min­ing whether the US had opened in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal fire on the Soviet Union. Just af­ter mid­night on Septem­ber 26, 1983, all signs seemed to point to “yes”.

The satel­lite sig­nal Petrov re­ceived in his bunker in­di­cated that a sin­gle Min­ute­man mis­sile had been launched and was headed to­wards the East. Four more ap­peared to fol­low, ac­cord­ing to satel­lite sig­nals, and the pro­to­col was clear: no­tify Soviet Air De­fence head­quar­ters in time for the gen­eral staff to con­sult Yuri An­dropov, the Soviet leader. A nu­clear holo­caust would prob­a­bly en­sue.

Yet Petrov, jug­gling a phone in one hand and an in­ter­com in the other, judged that the red alert was a false alarm. Soviet mis­siles, armed and ready, re­mained in their si­los. And Amer­i­can mis­siles, ap­par­ently min­utes from im­pact, seemed to van­ish into the air.

“I had a funny feel­ing in my gut,” Petrov said in 1999. “I didn’t want to make a mis­take. I made a de­ci­sion and that was it.”

While the “50-50” de­ci­sion may have averted catas­tro­phe, it ul­ti­mately de­stroyed the ca­reer of Petrov, who died on May 19 at his home in Fryazino. He was 77. – Wash­ing­ton Post

Stanislav Petrov

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