If you bumped into him on the street, Renato Grbic might not strike you as a modern-day superhero.
The shaven-headed, tattooed Belgrade fisherman is no Clark Kent. Yet, his watchful eyes and quick reactions to events at the Pancevo Bridge have earned him the title of "Superman of the Danube." Instead of a cape, he has used his small boat to record 25 lives saved, so far.
"There's nothing to beat the adrenaline when you save a life. When I hear the splash in the water, my heart starts beating faster, and there is only one question on my mind. Will I get there in time?"
Grbic, 51, is an athletically fit man with a friendly face and a firm handshake who morphed into his superhero status over time.
"About 15 years ago I was with my brother on the river. Back then people used to throw rubbish off the bridge, and when something hit the water we thought that someone had thrown a tire from up there. But a couple of minutes later I noticed that it wasn't sinking. When we approached, we saw that it was a young man. I gave him my hand and took him to the shore. My brother offered him a cigarette. I remember that he smoked almost the whole pack in just 15 minutes," Grbic says recalling his first rescue.
Since then he has saved another 24 people from the water, but despite the emotions of the moment, he does not keep in touch with them.
"At first I tried to talk to them, but most of the people who jump are mentally ill and it's difficult to communicate with them. They don't talk. Like a broken TV, you have an image, but you can't hear the sound," says Grbic.
The last person he saved several days ago was a 22-year-old woman named Alisa who tried to take her own life because of love. "I asked her, why did you do it?" "Because of my boyfriend," she replied shortly.
The only person who Grbic has kept in touch with is a girl he saved six years ago.
"I remember I was with some friends and family at a restaurant. We were outside, because it was a sunny Sunday in January. The girl's parents were driving with her over the bridge and her father slowed down for traffic. She used the opportunity to run from the car and threw herself over the bridge. She was 18 back then."
"It was a matter of seconds. The water was so cold that you couldn't hold a finger in it for more than a minute. That day my boat was the only one on the water, because during the winter, we draw our boats up on the bank when we aren't out fishing. The engine started at the first attempt," he said.
Grbic says that since the rescue, the young woman has gone on to marry and have a baby.
"Every year in January, the girl comes back to see me and together we celebrate her second birthday," says the fisherman. "That is my reward."
However, fate also delivered a cruel twist.
"While I was attending her wedding, two girls jumped from the bridge, but there was no one to try to save them."
Happy endings are not common for the people who Grbic saves.
"People tell me that those who jump from the bridge are born suicides. If they try once, eventually they do it. About seven years ago, my brother and I dragged a middle-aged postman from the river and a month later in the newspapers I saw a familiar face. It was the same man. He had committed suicide in his apartment," says Grbic.
Most jump during the day. "They are trying to attract attention. That jump is a call for help," he says.
Danube Superman Has Saved the Lives of 25 Jumpers
Over the years Grbic has saved people from all social backgrounds and has become something of an expert at spotting those likely to jump and their chances of survival.
"You can recognize a potential suicide on the bridge. This is not the center of the city, there aren't many people who walk over the bridge. Those who go over the bridge in order to cross walk at a busy pace and do no more than glimpse at the water. The suicides walk slowly, hesitantly, looking down at the river."
Those who survive the jump from 19 meters (63 feet) always ask for help.
"I believe that at the moment they jump they are already dead, but if they emerge, it's a completely different story. Then they become aware of what they have done. They fight, call for help, scream," explains Grbic.
He is a fourth generation fisherman who grew up on the Danube where he opened a fish restaurant with his wife under the Pancevo Bridge on the riverbank. Here, he spends most of his time watching the bridge. The walls of his restaurant are decorated with humanity awards.
"Every minute is important, that's why I think everyone I saved is predisposed to live. I feel very special after every rescue. I am usually overwhelmed by feelings, I know I have done the right thing," he said. "In the ideal world I would love not to do this, if only people would respect their lives more."
Renato loves to travel and he says will travel to Thailand soon.
"I would ask people not to try to jump off the bridge! There will be no one to rescue them.'
In ancient Greek mythology, it was Charon who was in charge of ferrying the dead across the River Styx on their final passage to Hades. But under Belgrade's Pancevo bridge there is a fisherman with a boat, and other ideas.
- Society & Culture