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Ovation: Renato Grbic, Heroic Fisherman.


Years ago, I worked in a downtown office building that had a beautiful view of the river.  Often during telephone calls, I spent many hours deep in thought (or not) gazing out the window at the river and its surroundings.  I watched the water level rise along the banks after heavy rains and commented on how much shore was exposed during dry times.  There were two bridges visible from my window and they were a constant source of activity.  So much so, that many of us kept binoculars in our desks in order to get a better view.

Whenever we saw flashing lights on one of the bridges, indicating that a police officer was present, it meant one of two things … an accident or a “jumper”.  Over the years, there were many instances of a person found perched atop the taller bridge threatening to jump into the river.  Many managed to take the plunge before authorities could intervene, but most were removed from the bridge before they jumped.

Apparently, the Pancevo Bridge across the Danube River in the Belgrade municipality of Palilula is also a popular place for jumpers.  About fifteen years ago, fisherman Renato Grbic was with his brother in a boat on the river when they heard something hit the water.  Back then, people would routinely throw rubbish from the bridge.  But, when they noticed this particular item wasn’t sinking they investigated and found a young man who had jumped into the cold water.  They pulled him from the river and brought him safely to shore.  Since then, Grbic has rescued an additional twenty-four people from the river.

“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?” – Renato Grbic, Hero

Grbic, 51, avoids becoming emotionally attached to the people who he’s saved.  But one woman, rescued six years ago, holds a special place in his heart.

“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 eighteen 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.   Every year in January, the girl comes back to see me and together we celebrate her second birthday.  That is my reward.” – Renato Grbic, Hero

Most jumpers do so during daylight hours, presumably in an attempt to attract attention and as a cry for help.  Often those who jump from bridges and survive eventually take their life.  Happy endings are not common for the people who Grbic saves.

“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.” – Renato Grbic, Hero

To my knowledge, none of the jumpers that I witnessed ever perished in the river.  Because of the frequency of jumpers on that particular bridge, the city had policies and procedures in place that included a small boat on the river in addition to medical personnel on standby.  The people of Belgrade are lucky to have Renato Grbic in their river.

If you or someone you know struggles with suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline …   “Because no one has to go into this fight alone.”

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Copyright © 2012

From → Ovations

  1. Suicide is such an important issue. Thank you for bringing it to the fore in such a positive way. I read recently that in the U.S., suicides have overtaken car crashes in the statistics. A big part of that is what has happened to our soldiers. Another part is the terrible economy.

    There is help for folks facing depression. I’m glad you pointed that out. So I think today, you get the ovation!


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