h Karapetyan is a retired Soviet-Armenian champion swimmer. He is an 11-time World Record holder, 17-time World Champion, 13-time European Champion and 7-time USSR Champion.
One cold morning on September 16th, 1976 he was doing his usual run along the dam in Erevan (Armenia), when a large trolleybus carrying 92 passengers lost control and flew off the road into the freezing water. During the impact, most of the passengers fell unconscious – the bus sank approximately 10 meters deep. Without a second of hesitation, Shavarsh leaped into the freezing water to rescue people.
Diving to the depth of 10 meters, Shavarsh used his feet to break the back window of the trolleybus. One by one, he saved 20 peoples’ lives (he actually pulled out more then 20, but not everyone made it). He spent nearly 20 minutes in the frigid water and accomplished 30 dives down to the wreck of the bus. His brother – Kamo Karapetyan – is also a swimmer, and took care of the injured people as Shavarsh brought them up to the surface.
Bystanders who watched Shavarsh bring people up to the surface said that his feet and back were full of glass shards. When later asked, what was the most horrifying part of this, Shavarsh replied by saying:
“I knew that I could only save so many lives, I was afraid to make a mistake. It was so dark down there that I could barely see anything. One of my dives, I accidentally grabbed a seat instead of a passenger… I could have saved a life instead. That seat still haunts me in my nightmares.”
After his 30th dive, Shavarsh lost consciousness. This courageous act has cost him dearly; he incurred heavy 2-sided pneumonia and blood contamination from the polluted water. Doctors were unsure if Shavarsh would ever recover. His life was hanging on by a thread while he stayed unconscious for 46 days. He finally recovered, but was never able to compete again. Today’s experts agree that no one but Shavarsh could have done what he has done.
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 later moved to Moscow and founded a shoe company called “Second Breath”. Karapetyan was later awarded a UNESCO “Fair Play” award for his heroism.
A main belt asteroid, 3027 Shavarsh, discovered by Nikolai Chernykh, was named after him (approved by the MPC in September 1986).
He regularly visits the Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
Karapetyan took part in the 2014 Winter Olympics torch relay for the second stage of the race. He was passed the torch in Moscow and carried it towards Krasnogorsk. The next day, Karapetyan carried the torch for a second time. He also stated in an interview, “I was carrying the torch for Russia and for Armenia.”