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Remembering the man you’ve never heard of who saved the world

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Tom Victor
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The ‘man who saved the world’ has died aged 77 1

You probably haven’t heard of Stanislav Petrov, but you owe a lot to him.

The 77-year-old passed away earlier this year, with the cause of death yet to be announced, though news of his passing was only made public this month.

But Petrov will forever be remembered in certain circles for something he did more than 30 years ago.

Back in September 1983, Petrov was serving at a Soviet early warning centre in the midst of the Cold War when computers picked up what appeared to be American missiles headed towards Soviet soil.

He had a choice: either report them to his superiors, possibly triggering a retaliatory attack, or determine that the computers had made a false reading.

Petrov opted for the latter, correctly deciding that it was a false alarm and declining to report the readings.

Through his actions, Petrov may have prevented a full-scale nuclear war, which some believe would have followed if Russia had launched a retaliatory nuclear strike based on false information.

The ‘man who saved the world’ has died aged 77

“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 back in 2013.

“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.”

Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB chief of foreign counterintelligence, later explained just how serious things could have been if Petrov had taken the readings as genuine and reported them.

“The danger was in the Soviet leadership thinking, ‘the Americans may attack, so we better attack first,” he said.

Petrov received no reward for his actions at the time, though the whole episode was later documented in the Danish documentary film The Man Who Saved the World.

So raise a glass today to Stanislav - you might not be here without him.

(Images: Rex Features)