Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 16, 2013
Shavarsh Karapetyan

Shavarsh Karapetyan

September 16, 1976: Shavarsh Karapetyan goes for an unexpected swim. Karapetyan was born in the capital city of the Lori Province, Armenia. He was born May 19, 1953 and grew up to be a champion finswimmer. Finswimming is carried out while wearing fins and swimming either on the surface of the water or submerged. Races last for various distances and are further divided on the basis of breathing. Some races take place without permitting any intake of fresh air. Some use various means of respiration and breathing apparatus. Early finswimming championship races were held in France in the 1920s.

Karapetyan was the European Champion 13 times and took the USSR Champion title seven times. He was an Honored Master of Sports of the USSR and had broken ten finswimming World Records. The 24-year-old was training with his brother, Kamo. They were running beside a reservoir in Erevan (also spelled Yereven) and both men were finishing up a 12 mile (20 km) run. They heard a noise and turned to see a trolleybus sinking into the reservoir. The bus had fallen from the top of the dam wall and was disappearing into the water.

The weather had already turned cool and the waters of the reservoir were cold. The lake was 33 feet deep and the bus was 80 feet from shore. There were 92 passengers trapped inside the bus, unable to break the windows and swim to safety. Shavarsh dove into the murky waters, unable to see because of the silt stirred up by the crash. He kicked out the rear window of the bus. He began ferrying people up to the surface spending about 30 seconds per person. He brought them up and his brother, also a swimmer, helped them to the shore. They saved twenty of the passengers.

Help arrived on the scene but was ineffective. They had no air in their diving balloons. The cause of the accident remains a mystery. Survivors from the doomed bus say the driver and a passenger were arguing. The passenger wanted the bus to stop and leave him off and the driver would not make the unscheduled stop. The passenger struck the bus driver who lost control. Or the driver had a heart attack. Shavarsh was injured while breaking out the window and became seriously ill after his heroic afternoon. He never swam competitively again. Today he runs a shoe production company called “Second Breath.”

“You want to be a hero? Learn to create certainty in the face of fear.” – Tony Robbins

“Heroism feels and never reasons, and therefore is always right.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If you can tell me who your heroes are, I can tell you how you’re going to turn out in life.” – Warren Buffet

“A hero has faced it all: he need not be undefeated, but he must be undaunted.” – Andrew Bernstein

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Shavarsh Karapetyan was not immediately honored for his rescue because few knew anything about the accident. Although he pulled more than 20 people from the bus, only 20 survived and all pictures taken that day were kept at the district attorney’s office. Shavarsh received many cuts and was unconscious for 45 days following the accident. Because of raw sewage in the water, he developed sepsis and lung complications which ended his finswimming career. Fame came when the story was finally published in 1982 and his name was given. He received around 60,000 letters after the story broke in the Komosomolskaya Pravda. On February 19, 1985, Shavarsh came upon a building ablaze with people trapped inside. He entered the building to rescue them and was once again severely injured. It took a long hospital stay for his burns to heal.

Also on this day: It’s Not Over ‘Til the Fat Lady Sings – In 1966, The Metropolitan Opera House opens.
Sublime Tenor – In 1930, Enrico Caruso last entered a recording studio.
Nancy – In 1961, a typhoon hit Osaka, Japan.


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