How do you define luck? Surviving an accident, winning the lottery? Some would say it’s being at the right place at the right time, or perhaps, the wrong place at the wrong time and getting out unscathed anyway. There’s a man who’d been through it all – and then some.
Frane (Frano) Selak was a music teacher from Croatia whose incredible life story gained him the nickname of the luckiest unlucky man to have ever lived… or maybe the other way around. His fate was so extraordinary, the fact he married six times seems like a footnote in comparison to everything else he faced in his lifetime.
Selak was known as the man who looked death in the eye and lived to tell the tale… again and again, seven times in total.
Over four decades, Selak got into accidents involving almost every mode of transport known to man. Except a boat – in fact, that’s where he was born in 1929. His parents went fishing near Dubrovnik; his mother, seven months pregnant at the time, went into labour prematurely and gave birth on the boat before they could get back to the shore.
From that point on, facts get a little murky. Selak’s life story has been shared online often and becomes more colourful the more you look into it, but given the nature of the events at hand, it’s understandable that a few details might have been a bit exaggerated at times.
Even so, it’s a fascinating tale which mostly holds true and we’re not here to nitpick the man’s legacy – here’s how he claims it all went down:
Frane Selak had his first brush with death in 1957, when a bus he was on swerved off the road and into a river. Both Selak and the bus driver managed to get out of the bus and they swam to shore. Selak later stated that Ahmet the driver never got behind the wheel without half a bottle of rakija in his system, but was an excellent driver nonetheless. In fact, they both had a shot of rakija before they boarded the bus, and the purpose of the trip was to go get a couple more rounds in the first place. They both survived the accident with a few minor cuts and bruises.
Disaster struck again in 1962 on a train ride from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik. A boulder fell on the tracks, causing the train to jump off the rails and crash into the icy river Neretva. Selak managed to break the compartment window and get out of the coach, also saving the life of an acquaintance who was travelling with him. Both were pulled out of the river by the residents of the nearby village and Selak only suffered a broken arm and hypothermia. Seventeen other passengers died in the wreckage.
In 1963, Selak got on a charter flight from Zagreb to Rijeka to visit his mother who had fallen ill. The flight was fully booked, but he explained he was having a family emergency and managed to convince the crew to take him on. He was sitting in the rear of the plane, next to a flight attendant named Rozika.
Not far from the destination airport, the plane suffered a technical malfunction and started losing altitude, finally crashing into a boulder.
The plane door was blown off before the crash, and Selak got sucked out of the plane at a height of 800m – despite all odds, he landed in a haystack which saved his life. Rozika survived as well, while all other passengers died in the crash. Selak, quite understandably, never got on a plane again.
Forgoing public transport didn’t help. In 1970, Selak was driving a car when it suddenly caught fire. He managed to leave the car and get to a safe distance seconds before the flames reached the fuel tank.
In 1973, another car ride went awry. While Selak was driving, a malfunctioning fuel pump leaked hot oil into the engine, resulting in flames which shot up through the air vents. While most of his hair was singed away, Selak did not sustain any other injuries.
In 1995, he was hit by a bus in Zagreb. Again, no serious injuries.
A year later, a UN truck almost crashed into Selak’s car on a mountain road. Selak avoided the collision by swerving at the very last moment and crashed into a guardrail. The fence gave way and his car fell into the ravine, some 100 metres below.
Selak, however, wasn’t wearing a seatbelt at the time – he reportedly never used one again after the tragic plane crash. He jumped out of the car window, clinging onto a tree on a slope right before the vehicle tipped over and crashed.
This was the last of near-fatal disasters Selak experienced in his lifetime, but not the last time he pushed the limits of fate. You see, Selak chanced playing the lottery after everything he went through. Turns out, Fortune really does favour the bold.
A few days after he turned 73, Selak won a 6,5 million kuna jackpot (around €900,000). He bought a house and a holiday home, then generously shared the rest of his winnings with friends and family. He reportedly bought and gifted 25 cars and lent money to a lot of people – most of which, as it usually goes, he never saw again. It didn’t turn him bitter, and he occasionally joked he didn’t really have a business mind.
He passed away in 2016, at 86 years of age. In the last decade or so, Selak became somewhat of an internet celebrity, and you’ll see his life story resurface every couple of years. Apart from the Croatian media, Selak’s incredible fate was picked up by the BBC and The Guardian, as well as many smaller blogs and forums.
A YouTube channel called This & That Visuals turned his life story into an animated feature which was seen over 3 million times since the video was published in 2014. This particular instance seemed to have irked Selak the most, as he didn’t like how the video was done and wasn’t happy that others were profiting from the hard times he’d been through without his input. He said at the time, ‘Americans have no clue. They gave me a moustache and got all my accidents mixed up.’
On our part, we hope we didn’t get anything mixed up in this feature. All the events are listed as Selak himself described them in an interview with Jutarnji in 2014, and we hope we did justice to his extraordinary tale.