Frane Selak, above, was born in 1929 in the part of former Yugoslavia which is now Croatia. Little is reported about the now 84-year-old man’s childhood, but we know about this adulthood well — because he always seems to be in the news. And in all but one case, he’s gotten his name in print simply by surviving in situations where many others have not, in a collection of freak occurrences too random to be believable if it were fiction.
And then, he struck it rich.
Selak’s death-defying story began in early January, 1962. The music teacher, then in his 30s, was on a train traveling from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik, a 150 mile (240 km) trip. The train derailed, plunging into the river, killing 17 of the passengers on board. Selak, though, despite a broken arm and other various injuries, managed to swim through the icy water to safety.
Selak tried traveling by plane a year later. It, too, went poorly. A door flew open and he and many others were thrown out of the plane. Nineteen people died, but Selak was not one of them — he, in the words of the Telegraph “was thrown clear of the crash and landed in a haystack.” Selak never took to the skies again.
He wasn’t done avoiding death. In 1966, he was on a bus which fell into a river. Four people died, but again, Selak swam to safety. He told the Scotsman that “by this time, my friend had stopped visiting me,” which even the non-superstitious among us probably think was a prudent idea.
And then there were the car accidents. Yes, accidents — plural. First, in 1970, his car caught fire, but he managed to escape before the fuel tank exploded. In 1973, his engine caught fire again, with flames bursting through his air conditioning vents, singeing his hair. And then, in 1996, he was driving on a mountain road when he saw a truck coming toward him, so he bailed out, as Neatorama so well described: he “drove the car through a guardrail, jumped out, landed in a tree – and watched his car explode 300 feet below.”
A year prior to that last incident? He was hit by a bus while crossing the street — but only suffered minor injuries. Somehow, whether on foot, in a bus, in a car, on a plane, or on a train, Frane Selak managed to taunt death, yet avoid it all the same.
Selak’s odd accident history puts him in the running for the title of either the luckiest or unluckiest person on the planet, depending on one’s perspective. But in 2003, that answer to that question became clear. Frane Selak, then age 74, bought his first ever lottery ticket — and won over $1 million. He lived a life of luxury for the rest of the decade. But realizing his good fortune in life, in 2010, he decided to sell it all, giving it away to those in need.
From the Archives: Die Hard: The man who wouldn’t die — no matter how hard his assailants tried.
Related: Unbreakable, the movie which isn’t about Frane Selak, but could be.
Image via Oddee.