The (Un)Luckiest Man
Frane Selak, of Croatia, has a reputation as the world’s luckiest man (or unluckiest, depending on your outlook). He’s said to have survived a train crash, a plane crash, and a car crash—and that’s just the start of his impossible brushes with death!
If you’ve grown up on a diet of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, you’ll know that ridiculous and impossible setpieces are just par for the course. That’s the way things work on the big screen. For Selak, though, the truth is far stranger and more dramatic than anything Hollywood could cook up. But what really is the truth?
This humble man was born in Croatia in 1929. He led a relatively unremarkable life as a music teacher (which is hardly the most high-octane, daredevil occupation out there), until a fateful train journey in 1962 set off an unbelievable, impossible chain of events.
Selak’s Impossible Story begins
While riding the rails from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik, a freak accident saw his train catapulted into a river. Seventeen passengers were killed, Selak reports, but he was able to swim to shore with nothing but a broken arm and hypothermia for his troubles. This harrowing event was just a drop in the ocean compared to what was in store for him next.
The very next year, Frane was flying from Zagreb to Rijeka. He reports that an accident saw a door come detached from the aircraft, which presently crashed. This time, nineteen people lost their lives, while the superhuman Selak was reportedly found in a haystack. He awoke in a hospital, appropriately rattled but really none the worse for wear.
Next, on the list of Modes of Transport That Clearly Think That Frane Selak Did Them A Great Personal Wrong, we have the bus. In 1966, the unfortunate man was in another fatal accident when the bus he was riding again plunged into a river. There were four casualties, but again he came out largely unscathed.
A couple of comparatively uneventful years passed until 1970 when Selak reports that his car’s fuel tank exploded on the motorway. He just barely escaped with his seemingly-charmed life. 1973 saw another freak car incident, when a malfunctioning fuel pump leaked petrol over his vehicle and sent flames spewing at him.
Fast forward a couple of decades to 1995, and he’s making news again as a Zagreb bus knocked him down. The next year came the immortal man’s seventh and final famous disaster: A truck came barrelling towards his Skoda as he drove around a mountain road. This episode ending with Selak leaping free, only to watch in horror as the car exploded.
The Truth Of The Tales?
So, there it is. Is Selak the unluckiest man in human history, to have had all these disasters befall him, or is he actually the luckiest for having survived them? That depends. If your glass half empty, or half full?
It’s important to remember that there are some doubts about these seven separate claims. Selak himself certainly made sure to emphasize the drama of his life story, and plays up the effect these incidents had on him.
“There came a stage when I was lucky to have any friends at all,” he once said. “Many stopped seeing me saying I was bad karma.”
But where does the line between impossible fact and fiction start to blur?
It’s true that there’s a lack of official verification of some of these incidents (the 1963 plane crash and the train crash before it, for instance), and some inconsistencies in the accounts. Whether this is down to failing memories, embellishments, tall stories or something else, we may never know the whole truth of this man’s extraordinary life. One thing’s for certain, though: there was one more amazing piece to the puzzle, one nobody can deny.
Selak’s Luck Evens Out
In the mid-2000s, as though to make up for the horrible, horrible deal Lady Luck had given him, Selak won the lottery in Croatia. His jackpot was worth around £600,000. With this, he bought a luxurious home, only to have a change of heart and sell it in 2010. He returned to a humble life with his fifth wife.
“All I need at my age is my Katarina. Money would not change anything… when she arrived I knew then that I really did have a charmed, blessed life.”
Whatever happened along the way, Frane’s story has a happy ending. He spent the last of his winnings on a hip operation, and on a shrine to the Virgin Mary in thanks for his good fortune.
By Chris Littlechild, contributor for Ripleys.com