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Monday, 14 October, 2002, 01:39 GMT 02:39 UK
Cuban conference relives missile crisis
Cuba missile silo
The silos were very near to seeing action
A conference in Havana marking the 40th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis has ended with a visit by participants to sites related to the dispute that brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war.

The delegates - who include politicians, military figures and academics from the US, Russia and Cuba - travelled to an abandoned silo west of Havana where Soviet nuclear missiles had been deployed.

Open in new window : Cuban missile crisis
Click here for pictures of the stand-off

Amongst those present were the Soviet general who commanded the silo, Anatoly Kribkov, and the US spy plane pilot, William Ecker, whose aerial photographs were used to expose its existence.

The crisis ended when the Moscow agreed to remove the missiles in return for the withdrawal of American nuclear missiles from Turkey.

Photographic evidence

Captain Ecker recalled how the last time he visited the site on 23 October he passed it in a matter of seconds as he made a low-flying pass over the silo in an F-8 jet, gathering information.

Captain  William Ecker
Captain Ecker took the vital photos
"I was only here for about two or three seconds the last time. I was smoking, between 400 feet and 500 feet (120 and 150 metres)," he said.

"I knew there was something there, but I didn't know exactly what until the film was developed in Florida," he added.

After taking the black and white pictures Captain Ecker flew straight to Washington where he was immediately sent into a briefing with President John F Kennedy and the US joint chiefs of staff.

"The pictures I took that day were Kennedy's evidence to back down Khrushchev," Captain Ecker said.

For his actions Kennedy later awarded the pilot with the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Emotional visit

Former Kennedy aide Ted Sorensen was present at the briefing in Washington.

"I have these extremely strong feelings standing on this site where the photos were taken - the photos we were shown in the briefing room," he said at the missile silo.

Delegates
Soviet: Missile deployment planner General Anatoly Gribkov, Sergei Mikoyan, son of Anastas Mikoyan, Soviet deputy premier at the time of the crisis
US: Kennedy speechwriter Theodore Sorensen, historian Arthur Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy's widow Ethel, former CIA analyst Dino Brugioni (who spotted the missile sites)
Cuba: Fidel Castro, Cuban generals involved in crisis
"It could have been the end of the world, but here we are 40 years later - Americans, Cubans, Russians," he added.

When inspecting a medium range Soviet R-2 missile on display Mr Sorensen said: "I'm very glad I'm seeing it here for the first time instead of on the back porch of the White House headed for me!"

Although the Russian general in command of the missile post denies that the warheads were ever operational.

"Not a single warhead was affixed to a missile. We never received any order from Moscow to bring the missiles to full combat readiness," said General Gribkov.

What are you memories of the time? Did you live in fear of a nuclear exchange?

A selection of your e-mails will be published on Monday 14 October.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Michael Voss
"The world came closer to nuclear war than was ever realised"
See also:

17 Jan 02 | Americas
25 Mar 01 | Americas
10 Apr 01 | Entertainment
27 Jul 02 | Americas
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