"You could look at it two ways," Frane Selak said. "I was either the unluckiest man in the world, or the luckiest. I preferred to believe the latter."
He claims to have survived seven brushes with death — before winning the lottery. But are the stories of the world’s luckiest/unluckiest man true?
Frane Selak’s Astounding Stories Of Survival
Frane Selak had never been on a plane before, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
According to Selak, the year was 1963 and the 32-year-old Croatian man had just received word that his mother was ill, making him determined to immediately fly from Zagreb to Rijeka to see her. The earliest flight available was already fully booked, but Selak said he managed to persuade the sympathetic airline to let him sit in the plane’s rear with the flight attendant.
Selak recalled that his first experience with air travel went smoothly until shortly before landing, when the unthinkable happened: One of the plane’s doors somehow flew open. As Selak told The Telegraph in 2003, “One minute we were drinking tea and the next the door was ripped open and [the flight attendant] was sucked into mid air followed shortly by me.”
Soon, Selak said, the plane crashed and the flight attendant, two pilots, and 17 other passengers lay dead. Selak, however, claimed to have miraculously survived after landing in a haystack that cushioned his fall.
And that’s just one of the seven incredible brushes with death that Frane Selak said he’s endured.
The year before the plane crash, Selak said he was on a train from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik that derailed and crashed into an icy river. But he claimed that despite suffering from hypothermia and a broken arm, he swam to safety and survived.
In 1966, according to Selak, he was on a bus that skidded into a river, leaving four dead while he swam safely to the banks and suffered only minor cuts and bruises.
In 1970 and 1973, Selak reportedly survived two similar accidents in which his car spontaneously caught fire while he was driving it and then exploded just before he was able to flee to safety.
After 22 accident-free years, Selak said he survived being hit by a bus while walking in Zagreb in 1995.
The following year, Selak claimed that he was driving in the Croatian mountains when an oncoming truck caused him to swerve off a 300-foot cliff. However, he said that he was able to jump out at the last second and watch from a tree at the cliff’s edge as his car plummeted downward.
Selak told The Telegraph that his friends were eventually hesitant to get in a vehicle with him or even be near him at all. “There came a stage when I was lucky to have any friends at all,” he said. “Many stopped seeing me saying I was bad karma.”
And as one neighbor of Selak’s said, “Put it like this, if I heard Frane had booked a flight or a train, I would cancel.”
Nevertheless, Frane Selak remained optimistic despite his many brush-with-death stories. “You could look at it two ways,” he said in 2003. “I was either the unluckiest man in the world, or the luckiest. I preferred to believe the latter.”
“I just know there will be no more accidents,” he added. “I am going to enjoy my life now. I feel like I have been reborn. God has been watching over me all these years. The Devil has moved on to torment someone else.”
Frane Selak may have been feeling especially optimistic when he made those comments because that was soon after he’d reportedly won a lottery jackpot of £600,000 (about $960,000). It was a fitting bit of good fortune for a man whose life story seems to have depended so much on luck.
Doubts About Selak’s Claims
Frane Selak has recounted his seven stories of near-death experiences time and again to outlets like The Telegraph and Der Spiegel.
But once his stories went international thanks to the interviews he started giving after his reported lottery win, some began to doubt the validity of his incredible tales. In the age of Google, those who doubt Selak point to the lack of official records documenting a fatal Croatian plane crash in 1963 or a fatal train crash the preceding year.
At the same time, the BBC gave the year of his first accident as 1957, not 1962, and said that it took place on a bus, not a train.
Meanwhile, there have been inconsistencies in Selak’s own stories. When The Telegraph interviewed him in 2003, he said that he’d been playing the lottery consistently for years before finally winning. But when The Telegraph spoke to him again in 2010 (when he said he gave most of his lottery fortune away to various charitable causes), the story was that he’d won the jackpot on his very first time ever playing. The year of his lotto win has likewise changed across the various accounts.
All relatively minor quibbles that could easily be the result of simple mistakes, but these kinds of discrepancies are harder to ignore when the survival stories at the center of Frane Selak’s biography are so hard to believe themselves.
But for what it’s worth, Selak’s claim to have survived falling out of a plane isn’t without precedent. A Serbian flight attendant named Vesna Vulović survived a 33,300-foot fall out of a plane after terrorists detonated a bomb that tore the craft apart in the skies over Czechoslovakia in 1972.
However, unlike the case of Frane Selak, Vesna Vulović’s story has more than enough documentation and reporting to prove that it’s true. That’s not the case for Frane Selak.
This doesn’t mean that he’s definitely lying or that the outlets that have reported his story are necessarily mistaken. Perhaps his story contains a mix of truth and lies, perhaps he’s misremembered some details that have caused inconsistencies, or perhaps those who have retold his stories have mistakenly added in inconsistencies themselves and thus muddied the waters.
Whatever the case, Frane Selak’s full collection of stories, incredible as it is, may remain unprovable one way or the other forever.
After this look at Frane Selak, read the stories of some of history’s most astounding survivors. First, there’s Juliane Koepcke, the woman who fell out of a plane 10,000 feet in the air and lived to tell about it. Then, discover the story of Violet Jessop, the woman who survived the sinking of the Titanic — and its two sister ships.