The Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov who single-handedly averted a worldwide nuclear war when he chose to believe his intuition instead of the computer screen, has died at age 77.
His country, the Soviet Union, was already on high alert in 1983, expecting retaliation for its downing of the Korean Air jet, when the Lieutenant Colonel saw an indication on the computer that the U.S. had launched a nuclear missile attack against them. He had no confirmation of the launch and only minutes to decide his course of action.
He was the officer on duty at the Serpukhov-15 bunker near Moscow on September 26, when the Cold War was at a peak. Just three and a half weeks prior, the Soviets had shot down a Boeing 747, killing all 269 people on board. It was Lt. Col. Petrov’s responsibility to observe the satellite early warning network and notify his superiors of any impending nuclear missile attack against the USSR. In the event of such an attack, the Soviet Union’s strategy was to launch an immediate all-out nuclear counter-attack against the United States, as the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction required.
Just past midnight, at 00:40 hrs, the bunker’s computers indicated that an American missile was heading toward the Soviet Union. Lt. Col. Petrov reasoned that a computer error had occurred, since the United States was not likely to launch just one missile if it were attacking the Soviet Union — it would launch many simultaneously. Also, the satellite system’s reliability had in the past been questioned, so he dismissed the warning as a false alarm, concluding that no missile had actually been launched by the Americans.