The Savior: Shavarsh Karapetyan

The content below is from Episode 77 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast


  • This week’s recommendation segment is brought to you by…. Shannon. LOL my Fiancee Shannon.
    • Tune in to the audio podcast to hear what she recommended this week.


  • Meriam and Webster define heroism as: heroic conduct especially as exhibited in fulfilling a high purpose or attaining a noble end.
  • In 1953 Armenia, back when it was Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, part of the Soviet Union, a boy was born.
  • Shavarsh attended school as a child, but when it came time to choose his career path, he choose auto mechanics. He went to a tech school to learn the trade.
    • Witnessing Shavarsh’s athleticism on a regular basis, his friends and family convinced him to learn how to swim, and he was a natural. He later set his sights on finswimming at the age of 17.
      • Finswimming is when you put those big black rubber fins on your feet and use them to swim like a mermaid.
      • Just 2 years after putting on his first set of fins, Shavarsh became the European champion of finswimming.
  • During his career as a finswimmer, Shavarsh Karapetyan:
    • set 11 finswimming world records
    • claimed victory in 17 world championships
    • won 13 European championships.
    • It is safe to say Shavarsh could swim like a fish. But this isn’t what made him famous!
      • Ok, that isn’t THAT hard to believe. Even though he won all these world championships at finswimming and was arguably the best finswimmer on the planet at the time… that doesn’t mean he is automatically famous. That is a cool feat and all, but I’ll bet you can’t name another finswimmer right now without looking it up on your phone. You probably can’t even name 1 world champion swimmer… that isn’t Michael Phelps.
  • What made Shavarsh stand out to the world was his acts of heroism. TRUE acts of heroism.
    • In 1974 Shavarsh was on his way back home city of Yerevan. He was on a bus with over 30 other passengers when the bus driver realized something was wrong with the bus.
    • On a steep hill the driver departed the bus to try and fix the issue. That is when the bus began to drift downhill… with no driver.
    • Shavarsh jumped to attention and took action. He broke the driver’s window and steered the bus to safety. He averted tragedy.
  • On September 16, 1976,
    • this  Merited Master of Sports of the USSR and 11 time finswimming world champion was training when when he witnessed something that would put his swimming skills to better use than any other swimming feat before.
    • While jogging alongside Yerevan Lake with his brother Kamo, also a finswimmer, Karapetyan had just completed his usual distance of 20 km (12 miles).
      • You know, 12 mile run, no biggie.
    • When all of the sudden he heard the sound of a crash and saw a sinking trolleybus which had gone out of control and fallen from a dam wall.
    • The trolleybus lay at the bottom of the reservoir some 25 metres (80 ft) offshore at a depth of 10 metres (33 ft). Shavarsh swam to it through the 13 degree celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit) and, despite conditions of almost zero visibility, due to the silt rising from the bottom, he broke the back window with his legs.
      • The trolleybus was crowded, it carried 92 passengers, Shavarsh started bringing people up from the bottom of the lake, to his waiting brother who was waiting on the surface with a boat he found and was now using to bring Shavarsh’s rescued to shore.
      • Although Sharvarsh was quickly losing strength, he kept rescuing as many people as he could. Due to the murky water and delirium from exhaustion, one of his dives to save somebody resulted in him bringing a bus seat cushion to the surface. He mistook the cushion for a person.
        • Years later in interviews he said that seat cushion gave him nightmares of regret. He regretted wasting time and not being able to save 1 more person.
      • The doctors at the local hospital assumed the crash victims were being attended to by a professional search and rescue crew. They couldn’t believe all those people were being saved by a single swimmer with the help of his brother.
      • After bringing an unbelievable 46 of the 92 passengers to the surface, his brother Kamo told him “Shavarsh, there is no point in diving down there anymore.”
        • The exhausted Shavarsh asked “Why?”
        • And his brother pointed out “it has been over 20 minutes. They are already dead.”
      • Out of the 46 people Shavarsh was able to bring to the surface, 20 people survived.
      • Without Shavarsh and his brother it is likely no one would have survived. It wasn’t until 45 minutes after the crash that the trolley bus was towed out of the water.
      • By then, Shavarsh was lying unconscious on the ground.
    • The combined effect of multiple lacerations from glass shards led to Shavarsh’s hospitalization for 45 days, as he developed pneumonia and sepsis. Subsequent lung complications prevented Shavarsh from continuing his sports career.
    • Now legal systems aren’t perfect and Shavarsh’s achievement was not immediately recognized.
      • All related photos were kept at the district attorney’s office and were only published two years later. It was years until the story of the 1976 trolley bus crash was picked up by the press. But when it was, Shavarsh said in interview that he didn’t want any big rewards because, in his words, “anyone else in my situation would have done the same thing.”
      • He was awarded the Medal “For the Salvation of the Drowning” and the Order of the Badge of Honor. His name became a household name in the USSR on October 12, 1982, when Komsomolskaya Pravda published the article on his feat, entitled “The Underwater Battle of the Champion”. This publication revealed that he was the rescuer; and he received about 60,000 letters.
  • If that true story wasn’t enough to pull on your heart strings,
    • On February 19, 1985, Shavarsh just happened to be near a burning building that had people trapped inside. He rushed in and started pulling people out without a second thought. Once again, he was badly hurt (severe burns) and spent a long time in the hospital.
    • He was later awarded a UNESCO “Fair Play” award for his heroism.
  • Nowadays, the 68 year old Shavarsh Karapetyan has grown quite the substantial beer gut and he is still adored by his fellow countrymen for his acts of bravery.
  • Thanks for Listening!


This is the image my dad sent to me one day hoping I would make this episode. Thanks Dad

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