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Soviet officer who averted nuclear war with US dies, 77

Stanislav Petrov, a former Soviet military officer dubbed "the man who saved the world," has died. His split-second decision in 1983 averted unintended nuclear war.

Stanislav Petrov, a former Soviet military officer credited with averting nuclear war with the United States, has died at age 77.

Petrov was on duty at a secret Soviet early warning facility near Moscow in September 1983 when an alarm went off warning of a US intercontinental ballistic missile launch. The 44-year-old lieutenant colonel had to make a decision within minutes whether the Soviet Union was under attack.

He could have reported the alarm to higher-ups who may have ordered retaliatory strikes, but he instead decided it was a false alarm.

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Quick decision, lasting peace

Petrov's split-second decision was memorialized in the 2014 documentary, "The Man Who Saved the World."

"I categorically refused to be guilty of starting World War III," Petrov said in the film. "I felt like I was being led to an execution."

The near-catastrophic incident didn't come to light until after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Despite very possibly having averted a nuclear war and the deaths of millions, Petrov never thought of himself as a hero, his son said. "He was always surprised that people were making a hero out of him," he said. "He simply did his job well."

Petrov died in May, but news of his passing only became public Tuesday after his German friend Karl Schumacher called to wish him a happy birthday only to be told by his son that he was dead.

cw/kl (AFP, AP)

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