40 years ago swimming champion Shavarsh Karapetyan saved 20 lives
40 years ago swimming champion Shavarsh Karapetyan saved 20 lives –
Born in the small European nation of Armenia in 1953, Shavarsh Karapetyan quickly became known for his sporting prowess. Despite his career being cut short, Karapetyan still managed to become 11-time World Record holder, 17-time World Champion, 13-time European Champion and 7-time USSR Champion. However, it was under the very circumstances his career was prematurely ended, that he will be fondly remembered, all over the world, for even more than his sporting achievements.
On September 16th 1976, Karapetyan was with his brother, coming to the end of a 12-mile run alongside the Yerevan Lake, when he heard an almighty crash; the sound of an out-of-control electric trolley-bus, falling from the wall of a dam. The bus, filled with passengers, quickly sank over 30ft to the bottom of the reservoir, so Karapetyan, displaying little concern for his own safety, immediately dived in after it. With over 90 passengers aboard a rapidly filling bus, Shavarsh knew he had little time. He smashed in the back window with his legs and began plucking people from their seats, in near-complete darkness, swimming them to shore, one-by-one. Working feverishly until he lost consciousness, Karapetyan managed to save the lives of 20 people.
The freezing water, cuts from the broken glass, and raw sewage in the lake water left him unconscious for 45 days, and lasting lung complications meant that Shavarsh’s illustrious sports career was finished. But his actions were not without their merits. Shavarsh belatedly became a nationwide hero, receiving a medal and high honours for outstanding achievements from the Soviet Union and becoming the subject of a widespread news article, leading to thousands of letters of thanks. Whilst he now leads a simpler life, running a shoe company in Russia, Karapetyan managed to book himself another life-threatening hospital stay in 1985, having saved a number of people from inside of a burning building, which he happened to be near, taking his total number of ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ acts of true, selfless heroism up to two.
Karapetyan was awarded the Order of the Badge of Honor by the USSR, and another medal “For Saving Drowning People in the Water.” An asteroid discovered in 1978 has also been named after him, the 3027 Shavarsh.