The Day Princess Diana Died

It’s been 23 years since the world woke up to the shocking news that Princess Diana had been killed in a car crash. She had spent her final days vacationing in the French Riviera with her boyfriend Dodi Fayed, the son of an Egyptian billionaire.

Princess Diana

The couple arrived in Paris on the morning of August 30, 1997 and later that night went to the Ritz Paris for dinner.  Here’s what happened next.

12:20 a.m.: Princess Diana and Fayed left the Ritz Paris along with bodyguard Trever Rees-Jones.

Trying to evade photographers they left the hotel by the rear entrance and got in a waiting black Mercedes S280 driven by Ritz Security employee Henri Paul.

Henri Paul
Trevor Rees-Jones(left) and driver Henri Paul

It would later be determined that Paul’s blood alcohol level was more than three times France’s legal limit.  Prozac and Tiapridal, which is sometimes used to combat alcohol withdrawal were also detected in his system.  Paul was also reportedly seen drunkenly taunting the paparazzi before sitting behind the driver’s seat of the vehicle.

As soon as they departed the hotel, a swarm of paparazzi on motorcycles began aggressively tailing their car. 

At approximately 12:23 a.m.:  Paul attempted to outrun the paparazzi but about three minutes later, he lost control and crashed into a pillar at the entrance of the Pont de l’Alma tunnel.

Fayed and Paul died on the scene, but the princess and Rees-Jones, who would ultimately survive the crash, were still breathing.  

A doctor who happened to be driving by tended to Diana with limited supplies before the ambulance arrived. Workers used an electric chainsaw to remove Diana from the car.

Approximately 1:20 a.m.: 

After attempting to stabilize Diana onsite, the ambulance transported her to the hospital.

French ambulances adhere to a “stay and play” method, unlike the American “scoop and run” technique. Many critics have argued that Diana may have lived if French authorities had immediately rushed her to the hospital.

1:45 a.m.: Britain’s ambassador to France, Michael Jay, was notified of the accident. He alerted the queen’s private secretary, Robin Janvrin, who was with the royal family at Balmoral. 

Approximately 2:01 a.m.: Diana finally arrived at Pitié-Salpétrière Hospital, almost an hour and a half after the crash. At the time of her arrival, she was unconscious but alive with a heartbeat. Doctors at the hospital performed a cardiac massage as surgeons tried to repair a ruptured blood vessel near her heart which was causing massive internal bleeding.

4:a.m.:  Princess Diana was pronounced dead at Pitié-Salpétrière Hospital in Paris. She was 36 years old. 

Princess Diana

An hour later, hospital anesthesiologist Dr. Bruno Riou would address the media saying, “An urgent surgery showed a severe wound to the left pulmonary vein. Despite the closure of this wound and the two-hour external and internal cardiac massage, no official respiratory circulation could be established…”

6:00 p.m.: Accompanied by Prince Charles and her sisters, Lady Jane Fellowes and Lady Sarah McCorquodale, Diana’s body left the hospital bound for England. About an hour later, their plane touched down at RAF Northolt, where a ceremonial guard carried her coffin, draped in the royal standard, to a waiting hearse.

Princess Diana

Diana’ death, much like her life, was a full-blown media sensation, and the subject of many conspiracy theories. At first, the paparazzi hounding the car were blamed for the crash, but later when it was revealed that driver Henri Paul was under the influence of alcohol and prescription drugs the blame shifted to him. Eventually a formal investigation concluded the paparazzi did not cause the collision. 

For more stories from the 1990s, make sure to check out my podcast “History of the 90s” on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you stream audio. You can also listen at Curiouscast.ca.

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