BELGRADE, SERBIA - On a bright autumn day, Renato Grbic was fishing on the Danube with his brother when he heard a splash. At first, he thought somebody had thrown something off the bridge.
Then he saw a man flailing in the water. "We hurried and pulled the man out," he recalled. "I remember telling him: 'Such a glorious day and you want to kill yourself!' "
From that day 15 years ago, his own life would never be the same. The restaurant owner, 51, has rescued 25 people who tried to kill themselves by jumping off the tall bridge.
Always on alert in his wooden motor boat, he has pulled people out of the river's muddy waters without asking for anything in return. "I couldn't turn my back on them," he said. "They are desperate people."
Grbic has been dubbed the "Superman of the Danube" by his admirers and awarded a hero's plaque by city authorities. But even "Superman" can't save everybody who jumps off the 60-foot-high bridge. At least as many as he has saved have killed themselves since Grbic's first rescue.
"When I hear that someone has jumped and I wasn't there, I really feel bad," he said. "My eyes are always on the bridge."
The Pancevo Bridge became a favored suicide spot because it's Belgrade's only bridge over the Danube, which is bigger and colder and has stronger underwater currents than the city's other river, the Sava.
Grbic has rescued people of all ages and backgrounds. Some had cancer, others cited poverty or unrequited love.
A woman who jumped seven years ago, at age 18, comes to his fish restaurant every January to celebrate her "second birthday." She is married now and has a child.
"My heart leaps every time I see her," he said.