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A blast from the past. In early August of 1990, a one hundred and thirty-five pound chimpanzee named Jo-Jo fell into water at the Detroit Zoo after being chased by a much larger aggressive chimp. Normally a cable in the enclosure kept the chimps from drowning. But it failed.

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As Jo-Jo thrashed hopelessly in the water, visitors and zoo workers looked on hopelessly. That might have been the end of the eighteen year old chimp, had Rick Swope not intervened. Swope was there with his wife and three kids, and could not help but rush to Jo-Jo’s aid.

Before we can continue, a reminder about chimpanzees. As you might recall from Planet of the Apes, chimps are shockingly strong. Five times as strong as a human being. And the enclosure was full of chips that could have grown aggressive at any moment.

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And Jo-Jo, while in need of help, was a frightened animal. Scared and cornered animals are always a risk, lashing out in confusion. Despite the risks, Swope jumped into the ape enclosure without hesitation. He grabbed the drowning ape, but lost his grip pretty quickly.  Even though the water was only five feet deep, it was so dirty that it made it hard to catch him again.

There was a moment of held breath as Swope searched for Jo-Jo. But the crowd cheered as Swope picked Jo-Jo backed up again and pulled him ashore.

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“He was pretty lifeless, but you could see he was still alive,” Swope told the Chicago Tribune. “He was looking at me. I think he knew what was going on”

The thirty three year old truck driver saved Jo-Jo, and showed shocking humility afterwards.

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“It was no big deal, you know,” he said. “It didn’t take an exceptional person to do it. If it did, I couldn’t have done it.”

I’m sorry, Mr. Swope, but if a crowd jumped in, then you wouldn’t be exceptional.You’re amazingly brave–and more than a bit lucky.