K-219 map

On 3 October 1986, while on patrol 680 miles (1,090 km) northeast of Bermuda, the K-219 suffered an explosion and fire in missile compartment VI. Three sailors were killed outright in the explosion. The vessel surfaced to permit its twin nuclear reactors to be shut down. The remaining crew was assigned to the bow or the stern, as far away from the explosion site as possible, and had been issued gas masks. Soon after, the temperature indicator showed a very high temperature at the nuclear reactors, the flow of coolant in the reactor gradually decreased further. This meant that a meltdown was imminent. However, the reactor shutdown could not proceed as planned from the control station; the trigger of the control rods had been damaged, by either the expanding gases or the intense heat. For this reason, the reactor SCRAM had to be carried out manually, directly into the reactor chamber. This also meant that the men doing this would be exposed to strong radiation, since the on-board contamination coveralls were not designed to protect the sailors from the strong gamma and neutron radiation directly in the vicinity of the reactor core.


20-year old enlisted seaman Sergei Preminin volunteered to shut down the reactor, to be enabled by operating under instruction from the Chief Engineer. They dropped three of four rods, but because of the high temperature (about 70°C or 158°F) Belikov lost consciousness. Preminin had to put the fourth rod in place alone. This was a job that required great physical strength, as the holders of the rods were now severely deformed by the heat. When he eventually tried to leave the reactor chamber, he could not open the hatch, as a pressure difference had been established between the reactor chamber and the reactor control station. After further attempts from other colleagues to force open the hatch from outside, Preminin died in the hot reactor chamber, as the rest of the crew had to move further towards the rear to escape the poisonous gases that spread out in the boat.

In honor of Sergei Preminin, may the memory of him never die.

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