On 3 October 1986, while on patrol 680 miles (1100 km) northeast of Bermuda, K-219 suffered an explosion and fire in a missile tube. The seal in a missile hatch cover failed, allowing seawater to leak into the missile tube and react with residue from the missile's liquid fuel. The Soviet Navy claimed that the leak was caused by a collision with USS Augusta (SSN-710). Augusta was certainly operating in proximity, but the United States Navy denies any collision (see below). K-219 had previously experienced a similar casualty; one of her missile tubes was already disabled and welded shut.
Three sailors were killed outright in the explosion. The vessel surfaced to permit its twin nuclear reactors to be shut down, which was only accomplished when a 19-year old enlisted seaman, Sergei Preminin, sacrificed his life to secure one of the onboard nuclear reactors by hand, trapped in the engine compartment. Captain Second Rank Igor Britanov was ordered to have the ship towed by a Soviet freighter back to Gadzhievo, her home port, some 7,000 kilometers (4350mi) away.
Although a towline was attached, towing attempts were unsuccessful, and after subsequent poison gas leaks into the final aft compartments and against orders, Britanov ordered the crew to evacuate onto the towing ship. Britanov remained aboard K-219.
However, K-219 abruptly sank into the Hatteras Abyss on 6 October 1986, in a depth of about 6,000 meters (18,000 ft). K-219's full complement of nuclear weapons was lost along with the vessel.
Preminin earned the Red Star, awarded posthumously, for his bravery in securing the reactors. Britanov was charged with negligence, sabotage, and treason. He was never imprisoned, but waited for his trial in Sverdlovsk. In May 1987, after a new Defense Minister took office in Moscow, the charges against Britanov were dismissed.
In 1997, Warner Brothers released the HBO movie Hostile Waters, starring Rutger Hauer, Martin Sheen, and Max von Sydow, based on a book by the same name, which claimed to describe the loss of K-219.