Princess Diana Car Crash
Twenty-three years ago on August 31, 1997, In the early hours of the morning, Princess Diana of Wales died in hospital after being injured in a motor vehicle accident in a road tunnel in Paris. Her partner, Dodi Fayed, and the driver of the Mercedes-Benz W140, Henri Paul, were pronounced dead at the scene. Their bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, survived with serious injuries.
Henri Paul was the deputy head of security at the Hôtel Ritz and assigned to drive Diana and Dodi to an apartment from the hotel. Dodi had earlier goaded paparazzi waiting for Diana and Fayed outside the hotel. Anti-depressants and traces of an anti-psychotic in his blood may have worsened Paul's inebriation. No evidence was found that paparazzi were near the car when it crashed. In 2008, the jury at a British inquest returned a verdict of unlawful killing through grossly negligent driving by Paul and following vehicles. It was also found that none of the occupants of the car were wearing a seat belt.
Diana was only 36 years old when she died. Her death caused an unprecedented outpouring of public grief in the United Kingdom and worldwide, and her funeral was watched by an estimated 2.5 billion people. The Royal Family were criticized in the press for their reaction to Diana's death. Public interest in Diana has remained high and she has retained regular press coverage in the years after her death. Here is a reenactment of the events the occurred leading up to the crash:
At 12:23am, Paul lost control of the vehicle at the entrance to the Pont de l'Alma tunnel. The car struck the right-hand wall and then swerved to the left of the two-lane carriageway before it collided head-on with the 13th pillar that supported the roof. The car was traveling at an estimated speed of 65 mph, over twice the tunnel's 31 mph speed limit. It then spun and hit the stone wall of the tunnel backwards, finally coming to a stop. The impact caused substantial damage, particularly to the front half of the vehicle, as there was no guard rail between the pillars to prevent this. Here is a detailed digital reenactment of the crash:
Witnesses arriving shortly after the accident reported smoke. Witnesses also reported that photographers on motorcycles "swarmed the Mercedes sedan before it entered the tunnel. Here is BBC rolling news footage as news of the crash came in:
With the four occupants still in the now wrecked car, the photographers, who had been driving slower and were some distance behind the Mercedes, reached the scene. The photographers were on motorcycles. Some rushed to help, tried to open the doors and help the victims, while some of them took pictures. Airbags were deployed. Police arrived on scene around ten minutes after the crash at 12:30am and an ambulance was on site five minutes after the police, according to witnesses. France Info radio reported that one photographer was beaten by witnesses who were horrified by the scene. Five of the photographers were taken into custody. Later, two others were detained and around twenty rolls of film were taken from the photographers. Police also impounded their vehicles. Firemen arrived to help remove the victims.
Still conscious, Rees-Jones had suffered multiple serious facial injuries and a head contusion. The front occupants' airbags had functioned normally. Diana, who had been sitting in the right rear passenger seat, was still conscious. Critically injured, Diana was reported to murmur repeatedly, "Oh my God," and after the photographers and other helpers were pushed away by police, "Leave me alone." In June 2007, the Channel 4 documentary "Diana: The Witnesses in the Tunnel" claimed that the first person to touch Diana was Dr. Maillez, who chanced upon the scene. He reported that Diana had no visible injuries but was in shock. Diana was removed from the car at 1:00am. She then went into cardiac arrest and following external cardiopulmonary resuscitation, her heart started beating again. Diana was moved to the SAMU ambulance at 1:18am, left the scene at 1:41am and arrived at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital at 2:06am.
Both Fayed and Paul were taken to the Institut Médico-Légal, the Paris mortuary, not to a hospital. Paul was later found to have a blood alcohol level of 1.75 grams per litre of blood, (which is about about 2.2 times the legal limit in the US).
Despite rigorous attempts to save her, Diana's injuries were too extensive and resuscitation attempts, including internal cardiac massage, were unsuccessful: her heart had been displaced to the right side of the chest, which tore the pulmonary vein and the pericardium. Diana later died at the hospital at approximately. Anesthesiologist Bruno Riou announced her death at a 6:00am news conference held at the hospital.
Later that morning, French Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevènement visited the hospital with French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. At around 5:00am, Diana's former husband, Charles, Prince of Wales, and her two older sisters, Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes, arrived in Paris. The group visited the hospital along with French President Jacques Chirac and thanked the doctors for trying to save her life. Prince Charles accompanied Diana's body home on Sunday. Her body was taken to the Hammersmith and Fulham mortuary in London for a post-mortem examination later that day. Here is a news clip the morning after the crash:
Some media claimed the erratic behavior of paparazzi following the car, as reported by the BBC, had contributed to the crash. In 1999, after an eighteen month, a French investigation found that Paul, who lost control of the vehicle at high speed while intoxicated and under the effects of prescription drugs, was solely responsible for the crash.
It was remarked by Robin Cook, the British Foreign Secretary, that if the accident had been caused in part by being hounded by paparazzi, it would be "doubly tragic." Diana's brother also blamed tabloid media for her death. An eighteen-month French judicial investigation concluded in 1999 that the crash was caused by Paul, who lost control at high speed while intoxicated.
In 2008, the jury at a British inquest returned a verdict of unlawful killing through grossly negligent driving by Paul and following vehicles. It was also found that none of the occupants of the car were wearing a seat belt.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that he "felt utterly devastated by the death of the Princess." US President Bill Clinton said that he and his wife, Hillary Clinton, were "profoundly saddened" when they found out about her death. Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General said that her death "has robbed the world of a consistent and committed voice for the improvement of the lives of suffering children worldwide."
Diana was 36 years old when she died. Her death caused an unprecedented outpouring of grief in the United Kingdom and worldwide, and her funeral was watched by an estimated 2.5 billion people.
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