I’m pretty sure that every single blog on Frane Selak references the Final Destination movies somehow. In those wretched flicks, a group of attractive youngsters die in a variety of dramatic ways, including being crushed by a neon sign, impaled by a flag hurled by a pussy-ass horse and trisected by a flying barbed-wire fence. The films are terrible. I myself saw the very first film at the cinema and thought it was a whole lot of fun, but in my defence I was 14 years old and 14 year olds are stupid.
What does any of this have to do with an 87-year-old music teacher from Croatia? Well, Frane Selak is world-famous (well, internet-famous at least) for his incredible ability to cheat death. Born in 1929, Selak lived through the misery of World War Two and began his lifelong career as an avoider of the Grim Reaper in 1962.
It was winter, and Selak found himself on a train heading from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik. Being the former Yugoslavia the train decided to fall apart, jumping the track and falling into the frozen river below. 17 individuals died in the accident, but our Frane merely broke his arm and swam to shore. One year later his train was upgraded to a plane, as his flight to Rijeka experienced problems (by which I mean the engines stopped and the plane crashed into a mountain). The door had been blown off before the plane arrived at its final destination however, and Selak was sucked out to safety. Well, a haystack.
Selak completed his public transport trifecta in 1965 when the bus he was travelling on headed towards a valley, killing four but not Frane. Five years later his issues with cars began, as his car engine burst into flames. Selak survived, and survived the same accident in 1973. Twenty peaceful years would pass before Selak was hit by a bus, and another 12 months before he was forced off the road by a bastard-truck-driver (as in a truck driver who was an arsehole, not a truck driver born out of wedlock). His car plummeted to a fiery doom, but Frane himself had managed to jump out of the window and found solace on a tree on the cliffside.
Seven brushes with death, seven miraculous survivals. Does that make Frane lucky or unlucky? He was definitely lucky in 2003, when as a 72-year-old he bought a lottery ticket for the first time and (you can see where this is going) won the jackpot. Frane would give most of the money away to family, echoing Biggie Smalls and Puff Daddy in declaring that ‘money can’t buy happiness’. The Croat has also been married a good solid five times, which probably lends itself more the ‘lucky unlucky’ tag.
This all sounds pretty ridiculous, right? How can it be possible for a man to be so lucky/unlucky? Cheating death on so many occasions, in such a fascinatingly exciting variety of ways? Surely it is too good to be true? Well, maybe it is. It doesn’t matter in truth, as the story is so wonderful that whether it is true or not is irrelevant, but the likelihood is that a lot of the story is exaggeration (or total fabrication).
Take the plane crash for instance. Being sucked out of a plane is plausible, a teenager survived a 3,500ft skydive with a faulty parachute in 2014 after all, but it is highly improbable. The lack of information on the plane crash is the big giveaway, the lack of airline, the lack of flight number, the lack of record of a plane crashing into the side of a mountain and killing everyone on board. These things get documented more often than not.
The other accidents are harder to prove or disprove, but the lack of documentation hints in one chinny-reckons direction. There are lists of rail accidents by year for example, and you’ve gotta dig pretty deep to find a Sarajevo – Dubrovnik 1962 accident in which 17 folk died. I’m still digging. The Daily Telegraph described it as a ‘high-speed train’, and I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a ‘high-speed’ train between the two provincial Yugoslav cities in the 1960s.
Whether or not Frane Selak cheated death on seven occasions is irrelevant, as what is important is the story itself. History is littered with fables and myths that have given people faith and strength, and as time passes Selak’s will surely be added to this list. Nobody wants to be sat around a table in a pub and hear a friend say ‘hey blokes, listen to this one. A bloke from Croatia cheated death like seven times, the first time…’ only to be interrupted by Jimmy Know It All saying ‘actually none of them can be independently verified’. No, we want to hear about the old dude falling out of a plane and landing in a haystack. The story will live on, and so it should. What the moral will be I’m not sure, but hopefully it won’t have anything to do with those Final Destination films.