It’s been 24 years since the world woke up to the shocking news that Princess Diana had been killed in a car crash. Diana’ death, much like her life, was a full-blown media sensation, as the public struggled to come to grips with what happened that fateful night.
Here’s a look back at Diana’s final hours on August 31, 1997:
12:20 a.m.: After dinner at the Ritz Paris, Princess Diana and boyfriend Dodi Fayed left the hotel along with bodyguard Trever Rees-Jones. As heard on episode 41 of History of the 90s, the couple had arrived in Paris on the morning of August 30 following a vacation in the French Riviera.
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.
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 getting behind the wheel.
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.
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.
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.
Dodi Fayed’s father Mohammed Al-fayed has long alleged that the couple was killed by British secret service agents on orders from Prince Philip, who didn’t want Diana to marry a Muslim. But an inquest and a police investigation have both ruled out the conspiracy.
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.