Professional fisherman Renato Grbic became famous for his nobility and bravery over a decade ago, and it is a huge honour for me knowing a man who saved 24 persons from drowning. Several magazines used my pictures for articles about Renato whom I had a pleasure to photoshoot recently.

Renato Grbic is a fisherman on river Danube by the bridge towards Pancevo, who saw that something fell from the bridge 14 years ago, while fishing together with his brother. At first he thought that someone threw something away, which is very common, but as they aproached closer he realised that it was actually a person.
As they came close to the person in the water they noticed that the jacket was filled with air so he couldn’t sink, but he tried to descend a few times to kill himself. They asked what he was doing and the man said that he was trying to comite suicide! Renato then said to him – “Why comiting a suicide, see how wonderful this life is?!” It was a sunny September day. After a long negotiation the drowning man agrees to take his savior’s hand and after that Renato took him to the shore, gave him dry clothes and waited for the police and ambulance. The rest is history.

Renato’s family has a long fishing tradition, and as the oldest fisherman family they got the name Penguins. The reason people gave them that nickname is the constant time they were spending on the river regardless to time of year, and they were also small, so there it was – The Danube Penguins. The name stayed till today. His late father and two late uncles were fishermans, and Renato with his brother and older sons is keeping that tradition to this day.
Rescuing series began fourteen years ago, and since then Renato is constantly looking towards the bridge. He says that about two persons a year make a deadly jump, and there are some that survive, but also those who don’t. Besides 24 survivors he saw plenty of corpses. Those that survive the jump and reache the surface mostly strugle to stay alive and call for help, but those who hit the water with their stomach die instantly, because that kind of a hit equals a hit on the concrete surface when blood vessels explode. The case which first comes to Renato’s mind is of a 19 year old girl who jumped in the cold river on January. Although it was a sunny day the water temperature was 1°C. Luckily one of the neighbours came to call the others for help and since Renato’s boat was the only one at the moment with motor, he immidietly went to rescue. Usualy in the moments like that something must go wrong, like the motor won’t start or the gas is out, but on the contrary everything went well that day. When he reached the girl she was starting to sink beacause she swam 400 meters in the cold water and she even took her jacket off. Her head was below the water surface and her hand above, so only seconds later she would have drowned.

Renato asks the same question to every person he saves – why do they do it. No one of them doesn’t have an answer, because they usally are mentaly ill persons. They are afraid and in shock due to the fall. After he took the girl to the shore they gave her dry clothes and warm tea and waited for the police and ambulance. Soon after that her uncle who drove the car she was in arrived. Imagine the surprised faces of her mother, sister and uncle when she opened the car door during traffic jam and jumped off the bridge. Renato visited her after the rescue, since she was living in the neighbourhood, and one year after the rescue she returned the visit along with her parents and sister. Her mother than said to Renato that she celebrated her second birthday on that day, and that was the most wonderful feeling for him.
To Renato’s so called CV we can add famous case of a female murderer who shot her ex husband and his daughter from the first marrage in front of Madera restaurant, and then jumped off the Branko’s bridge. She floated 5 kilometers before Renato saved her at the moment, but she later died of hypothermia.
Interesting event which Renato also remembers is the one when a man threatened his wife with a jump off the bridge, and she replied to him to do it. After he told his brother to stop the car, the man jumped off the bridge. Immidiately after the jump he cried for help. People can also be very strange in that life threating moments. One mature lady had her purse with her when she fell in the river, and when Renato’s father at that time tried to pull her in the boat she slaped him and said – Don’t touch my purse!

Most people jump on their feet hoping that they will die when they reach the water, not knowing that the agony soon follows. The bridge is 18 meters high at all points, and wheter they fall on the feet or no depends on the body flip during the fall.
After the floods a lot of junk shows up so you can see a lot of dead animals, refrigerators, barrels… People’s sloppyness is endless, as if we are not aware that we partialy use the water from the river for drink and everyday use. One of the heavy Renato’s cases is when he took out of the river a young male’s corpse. His heart gave up and he drowned by the river island Lido, and the police called Renato for help.

The only “swimmer” that Renato didn’t save was a guy who floated by the boat while Renato and his brother were night fishing. They asked if he needs help several times, but the guy didn’t respond. After they signaled the river police they showed to them where the guy’s silhouette was last seen. Afterwards they found out that the guy in the water actually raped some woman that night and the police caught him on the bridge so the guy tried to escape by jumping in the river Danube. Experience prevaled and Renato and his brother avoided being a potential targets that night.
In 2010 the city of Belgrade proudly awarded Renato with Recognition For Heroic Deed, which he most definitely had deserved.
Every fisherman basicly has experience in saving at least one person during lifetime. Thanks to them, those who don’t appreciate life might still have a second chance.