Throughout history, there have been times when people have made last-minute decisions on the spur of the moment. Sometimes the decision-makers have been prominent people, in other instances they’ve been unknowns. But the last-gasp decisions we describe here all have one thing in common: they changed history.
20. Armageddon averted
The year 1983 was a particularly tense time in the Cold War stand-off between the Soviet Union and the United States. When Flight 007, a scheduled Korean Airlines service between New York City and Seoul, strayed into prohibited Soviet airspace on September 1, a Russian Su15 fighter shot it down. All of the 269 passengers and crew died, and the animosity between Russia and America was dialed up more than a few notches.
Subsequently, on September 26 the Soviet Air Defense Force’s Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov was on duty monitoring systems designed to detect a U.S. attack on Russia. Terrifyingly, the equipment indicated the launch of up to six missiles targeting the Soviet Union from the U.S. But Petrov decided it must be a false alarm. As a result, he went against his standing orders, which called for instant retaliation – in other words, nuclear Armageddon. A later enquiry confirmed that the Soviet system had created a false positive. And that means everyone in the world owes Petrov a huge amount of gratitude.