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AP Was There: Diana’s last hours, on a tragic Paris night time



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PARIS — A chic dinner on the Ritz in Paris. A post-midnight drive previous the town’s floodlit treasures. After which, tragedy. The story of Princess Diana’s loss of life at age 36 in that catastrophic crash in a Paris visitors tunnel continues to shock, even after a quarter-century.

Twenty-five years later, The Related Press is making accessible this account of Diana’s last hours within the French capital, printed on Sept. 5, 1997, just a few days after the Aug. 31 crash. (The account, based mostly on reporting, interviews and information reviews accessible on the time, has been trimmed and edited flippantly.)

Coming into the Pont de l’Alma visitors tunnel at night time, one of many final belongings you see is the floodlit Eiffel Tower.

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Its iron latticework shimmering like lace in opposition to a black sky, it seemingly was one of many final issues Princess Diana ever noticed.

The tower’s lights go off each night time at 1 a.m. By that point on Sunday, Aug. 31, a dying Diana lay trapped in a crumpled wreck of a Mercedes, with rescuers making an attempt frantically to deal with her whereas they lower by the steel roof.

The quick trip to the tunnel from the Ritz Resort had been a surprising one, with a view of the town’s different floodlit treasures: the obelisk on the Place de la Concorde, the Arc de Triomphe off to the proper, the gold-domed Resort des Invalides throughout the river to the left.

4 individuals had been within the automobile: a driver and a bodyguard in entrance, the princess and her boyfriend in again. Behind them — it isn’t clear how far — had been a number of bikes and maybe two vehicles bearing paparazzi.

Approaching the tunnel alongside the Seine River, the shining tower was simply to the left. Even by the tinted home windows of a luxurious automobile, it will’ve been laborious to not look.

Seconds later, there was an enormous crash — witnesses stated it was like an explosion. It could quickly reverberate all over the world, however for a couple of minutes within the nonetheless night time, there was solely the insistent blare of a automobile horn set off by the motive force’s slumped physique, after which the press of digital camera shutters.

For the princess, after the spectacular metropolis lights, there was solely blackness.

10 p.m.: The night begins for Diana and Dodi Fayed with dinner within the sitting room of the Imperial Suite on the Ritz. It’s the greatest suite within the lodge, and no marvel: The lodge is owned by Fayed’s father, Mohamed Al Fayed.

The meals comes from the lodge’s two-star restaurant, Espadon, which implies swordfish. It’s recognized for its 100,000-bottle wine cellar.

Diana is reported to have ordered an appetizer of mushrooms and asparagus, after which sole; for Dodi, turbot.

Dodi might have carried a shock in his pocket: Information reviews quote a Paris jeweler saying he’d bought him an “extraordinary” diamond solitaire ring for $205,000, and it’s on the Ritz that Dodi might have given it to Diana.

Is it an engagement ring? Nobody will ever know for positive.

However the day has been tense. The couple has been having issues with paparazzi ever since their mid-afternoon arrival in Paris. First, they trailed Diana and Dodi from Le Bourget Airport exterior Paris, on their solution to see Villa Windsor — a mansion that when housed the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and that Dodi’s father has purchased and renovated. Their driver managed to shake the photographers.

Then, an try and have a 9:30 p.m. dinner on the stylish Paris bistro Chez Benoit failed, when paparazzi once more picked up the path. Giving up, Diana and Dodi determine to dine on the Ritz, the place there’s higher safety.

Resort video exhibits the vehicles arriving again on the Ritz, flashes going off as Diana goes by a revolving door, eyes downcast, trying distressed.

They stroll down the Ritz’s blue carpet bordered in gold towards the restaurant. Ten minutes later, they stroll again down the hallway — “due to the eye within the restaurant,” Paul Handley-Greaves, head of Al Fayed’s safety group, says later in London — and head up a spiral staircase to the Imperial Suite.

Inside, the plush lodge, with rust-colored marble columns and flooring lined with Persian rugs, is calm and peaceable. However exterior the doorway, on the elegant Place Vendome, paparazzi have once more gathered.

10:08 p.m.: Henri Paul, the No. 2 safety man on the Ritz, arrives on the lodge after having been summoned on his cellular phone at 10 p.m. He parks his personal automobile exterior, chats with some individuals and shakes arms with a pal, the night time responsibility supervisor and the concierge. Their accounts, Handley-Greaves says, “are that he was sober, he didn’t scent of alcohol, his gait was regular.”

Paul spends the following two hours within the foyer space. At one level, he goes into the lodge bar and sits with two different safety individuals at a desk on the sting of the bar space. There isn’t any safety digital camera within the bar, however each Handley-Greaves and Michael Cole, an Al Fayed household spokesman, stated interviews with lodge personnel confirmed no proof that Paul was ingesting.

12:07 a.m.: After dinner, as they go away the Imperial Suite, Diana and Fayed cease to debate the paparazzi “and the priority that the princess had that one thing would occur,” Handley-Greaves says. “Earlier on within the day,” he tells a London information convention, “she had expressed concern to bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones on the foolhardiness of the bike riders, not for the security of the car she was touring in. She expressed concern that the erratic method wherein they had been driving would possibly end in one among them falling beneath the wheels both of the lead automobile or the backup.”

Diana and Fayed are headed to an residence he owns off the Champs-Elysees, simply close to the Arc de Triomphe. Understanding paparazzi are exterior, they’ve determined to make use of two decoy automobiles — Vary Rover and a Mercedes. They publish the Vary Rover exterior the Ritz’s major entrance, with Fayed’s common driver on the wheel.

They want a 3rd automobile, so a rented Mercedes is known as into service. The jet-black automobile, rented from the Etoile limousine firm, is understood for its silky-smooth trip, however due to its weight, it isn’t the very best automobile for weaving out and in of visitors. “This isn’t the form of automobile you do slalom in,” says Jean-Pierre Bretton, a limousine driver who usually picks up well-heeled shoppers on the Ritz.

Diana and Dodi want a driver, too, and that’s why Paul has been known as again in from residence. Paul, 41, a local of France’s Brittany area, is reported to have obtained particular coaching in Germany to drive the armored Mercedes. Police say Paul lacked the particular license to drive the automobile; the Al Fayed household denies it.

Paris prosecutors say post-mortem blood assessments confirmed Paul was legally drunk, and judicial sources, talking on situation of anonymity, put the blood-alcohol stage at greater than 3 times the authorized restrict, at the least.

Regardless of reviews that Paul was a heavy drinker, at the least two bartenders who knew him informed The Related Press they by no means noticed indicators of that.

Tony Poer, a former bartender at Willi’s wine bar close to the Ritz, says Paul was an everyday there, however solely drank beer.

“I by no means noticed him extraordinarily drunk,” says Poer, now supervisor of a San Francisco nightclub. “He even gave me a trip residence just a few occasions. I wasn’t nervous or something.”

And Alain Bousseau, proprietor of the Mazarin bar not removed from the Ritz, says that though Paul was reported to be an everyday there, he noticed him solely two or 3 times in the previous couple of years. As soon as, he drank solely a small glass of Cheverny wine; one other time, he had a espresso.

12:19 a.m: Dodi and Diana stand in an space by the again entrance of the lodge, milling with safety officers making ready their departure. A Ritz Resort safety digital camera video exhibits Dodi slipping his arm protectively round Diana’s waist.

12:20 a.m.: The couple leaves the Ritz from the again entrance, and climbs into the Mercedes. Diana is wearing a black high, black jacket and belted white trousers. Her hair is rigorously coiffed and he or she wears crimson lipstick.

Dodi appears extra informal in a tan jacket and lengthy grey shirt, open on the neck and hanging loosely over stone-washed denims.

The lodge video exhibits no paparazzi exterior the again entrance, however the decoy ruse clearly hasn’t labored.

With paparazzi in pursuit, the Mercedes travels down the Rue Cambon and turns proper onto the colonnaded, boutique-lined Rue de Rivoli, with the Tuileries Gardens on the left. Arriving on the Place de la Concorde, it takes a left previous the obelisk, permitting a view of the Champs-Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe on the proper because it makes its solution to the financial institution of the Seine.

Right here, some photographers say, Paul already is driving dangerously. Jacques Langevin says he was informed by fellow photographers that on the Place de la Concorde, after they had been stopped at a crimson mild, the Mercedes took off with a roar earlier than the sunshine turned inexperienced.

Already, the photographer informed the Liberation each day, “the Mercedes was fishtailing dangerously and the motive force didn’t appear to be in management.”

Neither Diana nor Fayed are sporting seat belts; solely bodyguard Rees-Jones, sitting within the entrance passenger seat, is sporting one.

The Mercedes is heading alongside the river now, down the Cours de la Reine, then the Cours Albert 1st, the place the method to the tunnel lies.

About 12:25 a.m.: The Mercedes enters the 660-foot-long tunnel, in all probability to keep away from visitors on the crowded Place de l’Alma. The tunnel is brightly lit, neon bulbs reflecting on the white-tiled partitions.

The method is harmful at excessive velocity. The highway swerves barely to the proper, then to the left; then there’s a fast dip.

The velocity restrict is 30 mph. A cab driver says he as soon as tried the tunnel at 70 mph and was scared. “That factor is slender and harmful,” stated Jacques Gaulthier. “You’d must be loopy to take it quick.”

Simply how briskly does Paul take it?

Police officers, talking on situation of anonymity, say the automobile’s speedometer was discovered frozen at 196 kilometers per hour, or 121 mph. They name it an virtually sure indicator of its velocity at affect, however the Al Fayed household disputes that, saying the speedometer was caught as a substitute at zero. A Mercedes knowledgeable says the speedometer strikes mechanically to 0 or to high velocity when energy cuts off.

Witnesses even have described the automobile as going effectively over 90 mph, maybe near 120 mph.

Additionally, police say the automobile, geared up with anti-lock brakes, left 53 ft of skid marks — one other indication of excessive velocity.

It isn’t clear what number of paparazzi are tailing the automobile, and at what distance. A lawyer for Al Fayed says a “cortege” of paparazzi had been “swarming” the automobile. However one photographer, Lazlo Veres, says they had been at the least 550 yards behind.

Seconds after the automobile enters the tunnel within the left westbound lane, it goes uncontrolled, placing the thirteenth concrete pillar dividing the tunnel, rolls over and rebounds into the proper wall. It then spins round. When the automobile stops, it’s going through east — the course it got here from.

The driving force’s physique is slumped over the horn. The affect is so nice that elements of the radiator are reportedly discovered embedded in his physique. Fayed, behind him on the left facet of the automobile, is also killed instantly.

Jack and Robin Firestone, vacationers from Lengthy Island in New York, are strolling close to the tunnel after they hear the terrible noise. They run in. In interviews, they, too, describe photographers “swarming” the wreck.

But a health care provider who says he was driving by the tunnel within the different course simply after the accident, arriving earlier than rescuers did, says he wasn’t hindered by the photographers.

Dr. Frederic Mailliez says Diana “was unconscious, moaning and gesturing in each course” as she fought for breath.

“There have been 10 or 15 photographers round, and so they had been snapping pictures nonstop, however I can not say they hindered my work,” he says.

12:27 a.m.: Firefighters get the primary name for assist.

About 12:40 a.m.: Police and firefighters arrive. Diana and bodyguard Rees-Jones are nonetheless alive. The automobile is a crumpled mass of steel and glass.

Police arrest six photographers and one motorcyclist, confiscating their movie and mobile telephones.

Rescuers want to chop by the roof of the automobile to get the victims out. They lastly extract Diana by the again. In the meantime, emergency medical doctors have been making an attempt to deal with her on the scene.

2 a.m.: Diana is bleeding closely from the chest when she arrives at Hospital La Pitié Salpêtrière, together with the bodyguard. She rapidly goes into cardiac arrest.

Docs shut a wound to the left pulmonary vein, then attempt to revive her with two hours of chest therapeutic massage — first externally after which on to the guts. It fails.

4 a.m.: Diana is asserted useless.

6 a.m.: “The loss of life of the Princess of Wales,” says British ambassador Michael Jay, with medical doctors at a hospital information convention, “fills us all with shock and deep grief.”


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