Some folks have super weird luck. In the past, we wrote about Bill Morgan, an Australian who came back from the dead then won the lottery twice, Roy Sullivan, who survived being struck by lightning seven times, and Radivoje Lajic, a Bosnian whose house was hit six different times by meteorites, or so he claims. Now, consider the extraordinary tale of Frane Selak an 88-year-old Croatian music teacher who reportedly escaped death several times in amazing ways and then won over a million dollars in the lottery. Here is a cartoon video summary of his amazing story:
More details are found on Wikipedia:
Selak’s brushes with death started in January 1962 when he was riding a train through a cold, rainy canyon and the train flipped off the tracks and crashed in a river. Someone pulled Selak to safety, while 17 other unfortunate passengers drowned. Selak suffered a broken arm and hypothermia. The next year, during his first and only plane ride, he was blown out of a malfunctioning plane door and landed in a haystack; the plane crashed, killing 19 people. However, there is no report of any plane crash in Croatia in 1963. Three years after that, in 1966, a bus that he was riding skidded off the road and into a river, drowning four passengers. Selak swam to shore with a few cuts and bruises.
In 1970 his car caught fire as he was driving and he managed to escape before the fuel tank blew up. Three years later, in another driving incident, the engine of his car was doused with hot oil from a malfunctioning fuel pump, causing flames to shoot through the air vents. Selak’s hair was completely singed in this incident, but he was otherwise unharmed. In 1995, he was struck by a bus in Zagreb, but sustained only minor injuries. In 1996 he eluded a head-on collision with a United Nations truck on a mountain curve by swerving into a guardrail, which gave way under the force of his car; he was ejected from the car when the door flew open, (he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt) managed to hold onto a tree, and watched his car plummet down 90 metres (300 ft) into a gorge. In 2003, two days after his 73rd birthday, Selak won €800,000 (US$1,110,000) in the lottery. At the time of his win, he also married for the fifth time. While he purchased two houses and a boat with his winnings, in 2010 he decided to give most of the remaining money away to relatives and friends after deciding to live a frugal lifestyle.
… Born in 1929 and from Croatia, Frane Selak’s terrifyingly unlucky but incredibly lucky timeline goes like this:
- 1962 – train flips off the track and crashes into a river killing 17 people, Selak survives.
- 1963 – plane crashes killing 19 people but Selak is sucked out of a malfunctioning door and lands in a haystack. He survives.
- 1966 – bus skids off the road and kills 4 people, Selak survives
- 1970 – car catches on fire but he manages to escape before it explodes. He survives.
- 1973 – car catches on fire and shoots flames through the air vents. He survives.
- 1995 – hit by a bus. He survives.
- 1996 – misses head on collision in his car but falls off the road. He’s ejected from his seat and holds onto a tree as the car plummets 300 foot down. He survives.
- 2003 – he wins about a million dollars in the lottery
- 2010 – he gives away the rest of his money to family and friends
Scientists understand many things by examining exceptions. I am lately intrigued by the idea that the strange luck of a few men tells us something about the nature of reality that we have not yet understood. It is as if there are luck “demons,” or fields of strange luck that persist for years in which some people can get caught.
Then again … In the case of Frane, the story’s original fabrication may have been traced by someone on a fact checking site. This is from “Able”:
There appear many pages about Frane Selak, but none of these pages give more details about that particular accident, or any of the accidents that he was involved in. Plane accidents are very well documented on several sites. If you look at the year 1963 at PlaneCrashInfo, there is no mention of a crash that involved 19 deaths and one or more survivors. Digging further, there appears to be no crash record that mentions loosing a door during freefall (there is at least one mentioning an opened door in 1989, but not in 1963).
I am not saying it is impossible to survive such a fall, weird accidents and survivals happen, but I would say that his story is fabricated, or if not, badly documented (maybe the year or amount of fatalities mentioned are wrong, but I tried other years and fatality numbers, but found naught). But what really seems to point into the direction of fabrication is the lack of detail: what airline, what country, what flightnumber was the incident? None of the stories mention it and the journalists don’t seem to bother.
Apart from the aircraft incident, it will be hard to prove or disprove the other incidents, as they are too small and too long ago to have made it into public records. One note on the train incident: it seems severe enough it would have made it into this list, but nothing of the kind can be found there.
Update:this article claims the flight was from Zagreb to Rijeka and this article from 2004, asking the same questions as you on Selak’s story, claims it was a DC-8. In the same thread, a user claims that “No DC-8s have been lost between Zagreb and Rijeka, in 1963 or any other year.”. None of the DC-8 accidents, or Zagreb accidents, seem to have any relation to this story.
Update 2: a person going by the name Jayco (Zeljko) Selakclaims to be his father and invites you to ask him personally in another comment. He says that Frane Selak deliberately fabricated the story in an interview with a journalist from The Scottsman, which has since been printed and reprinted over an over. Quote from the link (in case the link goes dead):
“Than in his old age he got lucky and won a lottery.That wasn’t enough for fame…So he has found (and paid?!) a local “journalist” to fabricate the story in the local newspaper about incredible death-cheating life! Some naive scotish “jounalist” saw the story and (without checking the facts!) has published the story in “The Scottsman”!
Of course, without verifying whether he truly is his son, or without checking with Frane Selak himself, there is no way to truly dismantle this story. However, if you sum it all up, it is pretty sure it is all made-up and fabricated, except for winning the lottery.
Well, Frane did win over $1 million in the lottery. Perhaps giving away a lot of his winnings later was a way of apologizing for the reporter who made up the absurd tale. Sometimes well-meaning folks facing unusual circumstances will consult an expert in a certain area and then go with what the expert recommends they do and say.