On 31 August 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales died as a result of injuries sustained in a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel in Paris, France. Dodi Fayed, and the driver of the Mercedes-Benz S280, Henri Paul, were pronounced dead at the scene; the bodyguard of Diana and Dodi, Trevor Rees-Jones, was the only survivor. Although the media blamed the paparazzi following the car, an 18-month French judicial investigation found that the crash was caused by Paul, who lost control of the car at high speed while drunk. Paul was the deputy head of security at the Hôtel Ritz and had earlier goaded the paparazzi waiting outside the hotel. His inebriation may have been exacerbated by anti-depressants and traces of a tranquilising anti-psychotic in his body. The investigation concluded that the photographers were not near the Mercedes when it crashed.
On Saturday, 30 August 1997, Diana left Sardinia on a private jet and arrived in Paris with Dodi Fayed, the son of Mohamed Al-Fayed. They had stopped there en route to London, having spent the preceding nine days together on board Mohamed Al-Fayed’s yacht Jonikal on the French and Italian Riviera. They had intended to stay there for the night. Mohamed Al-Fayed was and is the owner of the Hôtel Ritz Paris. He also owned an apartment in Rue Arsène Houssaye, a short distance from the hotel, just off the Avenue des Champs Elysées.
Henri Paul, the deputy head of security at the Ritz Hotel, had been instructed to drive the hired black 1994 Mercedes-Benz S280 in order to elude the paparazzi; a decoy vehicle left the Ritz first from the main entrance on Place Vendôme, attracting a throng of photographers. Diana and Fayed then departed from the hotel’s rear entrance rue Cambon at around 00:20 on 31 August, heading for the apartment in Rue Arsène Houssaye. They were the rear passengers; Trevor Rees-Jones, a member of the Fayed family’s personal protection team, was in the (right) front passenger seat.
After leaving the rue Cambon and crossing the Place de la Concorde, they drove along Cours la Reine and Cours Albert 1er – the embankment road along the right bank of the River Seine – into the Place de l’Alma underpass. At around 12:23 a.m., at the entrance to the tunnel, Paul lost control; the car swerved to the left of the two-lane carriageway before colliding head-on with the 13th pillar supporting the roof at an estimated speed of 105 km/h (65 mph). It t hen 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 (and still is) no guard rail between the pillars to prevent this. The Place de l’Alma underpass is the only one on that embankment road that has roof-supporting pillars.
As the victims lay in the wrecked car, the photographers, who had been driving slower and were accordingly some distance behind the Mercedes, reached the scene. Some rushed to help, tried to open the doors and help the victims, while some of them took pictures. 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.”
Diana, who had been sitting in the right rear passenger seat, was still conscious. It was first reported that she was crouched on the floor of the vehicle with her back to the road. It was also reported that a photographer described her as bleeding from the nose and ears with her head rested on the back of the front passenger seat; he tried to remove her from the car but her feet were stuck. Then he told her that help was on the way and to stay awake; there was no answer, just blinking.
Diana was removed from the car at 1:00 am. She then went into cardiac arrest. Following external cardiopulmonary resuscitation, her heart started beating again. She was moved to the SAMU ambulance at 1:18 am, left the scene at 1:41 am and arrived at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital at 2:06 am. Despite attempts to save her, her internal injuries were too extensive: her heart had been displaced to the right side of the chest, which tore the pulmonary vein and the pericardium. Despite lengthy resuscitation attempts, including internal cardiac massage, she died at 4 am. At 4:00 am, her death was announced at a press conference held by a hospital doctor; Jean-Pierre Chevènement, France’s Interior Minister; and Sir Michael Jay, Britain’s ambassador to France