Karapetyan had just completed his usual distance of 20 km (12 mi) when he heard the sound of the crash and saw the sinking trolleybus which had gone out of control and fallen from the 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). Karapetyan swam to it and, despite conditions of almost zero visibility, due to the silt rising from the bottom, broke the back window with his legs. The trolleybus was crowded, it carried 92 passengers and Karapetyan knew he had little time, spending some 30 to 35 seconds for each person he saved.
Karapetyan managed to rescue 20 people (he picked up more, but only 20 survived), but this ended his sports career: the combined effect of cold water and the multiple wounds he received (scratched by glass), left him unconscious for 45 days. Subsequent sepsis, due to the presence of raw sewage in the lake water, and lung complications prevented him from continuing his sports career.
On February 19th, 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 Player” medal for his heroism.