What Year Did Princess Diana Die? And Other Facts You Need to Know

Everybody knows the basic story of Princess Diana’s death: Her chauffeur, pursued by paparazzi, lost control of her car in a Paris tunnel, and three out of the four people in the car died. But many of us are fuzzy on the details of what exactly happened and when. For starters, what year did Princess Diana die? Who was in the car with her? How did she die? And what happened to the photographers whom many blame for causing Diana’s death? Here’s the whole story.

What year did Princess Diana die?

Princess Diana

What year did Princess Diana die? 1997. | Pierre Verdy/ AFP/ Getty Images

Princess Diana died on August 31, 1997. Newsweek reports that Diana was in Paris with her lover, Emad “Dodi” Fayed. They had flown from Sardinia to Paris after 10 days together on the French Riviera. In Paris, they dined “fashionably late” at the Ritz Paris, where paparazzi weren’t allowed in the door, but waited in the Palace Vendrome out front.

A few minutes past midnight, Diana and Dodi slipped out the Ritz’s back entrance to avoid press photographers. They got into a waiting Mercedes that belonged to the Ritz, one of the hotel’s security men, Henri Paul, took the wheel. A bodyguard rode shotgun, and Diana and Dodi shared the backseat. Heading southwest, they seemed to be going to Dodi’s townhouse, about four miles away.

How did the car crash happen?

At least one motorcycle — carrying a photographer — began to follow them. As Diana’s car raced along the Cours la Reine and entered a tunnel beneath the Place de l’Alma — just across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower and down the hill from the Arc de Triomphe — another motorcycle, a motor scooter, and at least one car were also pursuing them. 35 minutes after midnight, Diana’s driver lost control of the vehicle. Newsweek recounts:

About one third of the way through the tunnel, with a bang and a sickening squeal of tires audible to tourists strolling along the river, the car slammed into a pillar at a speed police estimate at 85 miles per hour. It ricocheted off the opposite wall. The entire front of the sedan accordioned into the front seat. The roof collapsed to the level of the front passengers’ knees. And as if in cruel mockery of the limits of technology, the two front airbags deployed.

How did Princess Diana die?

The wreckage of Princess Diana's car lies in a Paris tunnel on August 31, 1997

The wreckage of Princess Diana’s car lies in a Paris tunnel on August 31, 1997.
| Jack Guez/ AFP/ Getty Images

The collision killed the driver and Dodi instantly. But according to the first news reports, Princess Diana only had a broken arm and a concussion. An ambulance arrived within 10 minutes, and the crew spent an hour getting Diana out of the car. They transported her to the Pitie Salpetriere hospital. There, she immediately went into emergency surgery.

Doctors spent two hours performing internal and external cardiac massage to try to get her heart, which had stopped, to resume pumping. Her left pulmonary vein had sustained a major wound, and she was bleeding internally. At 6 a.m., doctors made the announcement that at 4 a.m., Princess Diana had been pronounced dead of cardiac arrest. They delayed the announcement so that Prince Charles could tell Prince William and Prince Harry. It had been one year and three days since Charles and Diana finalized their divorce.

What were her last words?

The Los Angeles Times reports that according to a firefighter who responded to the crash, “He resuscitated her and she was conscious and her eyes were open when he pulled her from the wrecked Mercedes.” Xavier Gourmelon led the response team and administered CPR to Diana. The Times explains that Gourmelon saw she had an injury to her right shoulder, but saw no other significant wounds or blood on her.

The firefighter told the Times, “I held her hand and told her to be calm and keep still. I said I was there to help and reassured her. She said, ‘My God, what’s happened?'” She suffered cardiac arrest when she was placed on a stretcher. But Gourmelon said, “To be honest, I thought she would live. As far as I knew when she was in the ambulance, she was alive, and I expected her to live. But I found out later she had died in hospital. It was very upsetting.”

What happened to the photographers?

A cameraman films the point of the fatal car accident in Paris that killed Princess Diana

A cameraman films the point of the fatal car accident in Paris that killed Princess Diana and Dodi al-Fayed. Bunches of flowers have been laid down in their memory. | Jacques Demarthon/ AFP/ Getty Images

As Newsweek reports, witnesses said that at least one professional photographer was shooting the wreckage — along with its dead or dying occupants — within 15 seconds of the accident. A spokesman for the Paris police said that the chase could have caused the accident, and French authorities launched a criminal investigation into whether the paparazzi indirectly killed Princess Diana.

Multiple investigations later concluded that the accident was caused by reckless driving by Diana’s chauffeur, though the pursuit by the paparazzi was also a contributing factor. USA Today reports that Paul had a blood-alcohol level more than three times France’s legal limit. An analysis also detected the antidepressant Prozac, as well as Tiapridal, sometimes used to combat alcohol withdrawal, in his system. Nine photographers were charged with manslaughter in France, but the charges were thrown out.

Princess Diana’s brother eulogized her as “the most hunted person of the modern age.” Prince William characterized the press’s treatment of Diana as “utterly appalling.” And Prince Harry said of photographers’ behavior in Diana’s final moments, “She had quite a severe head injury but was still very much alive on the backseat,” Harry said. “And those people that caused the accident instead of helping were taking photographs of her dying.”

Did anyone survive the crash?

As Yahoo News notes, bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones was the only person to survive the crash. He worked as a private security guard for Dodi Fayed at Harrods in London before guarding Dodi and Diana. That night in Paris, Rees-Jones “suffered a number of broken bones and a flattened face that had to be surgically reconstructed,” using 150 pieces of titanium, Yahoo News notes. He also spent 10 days in a coma.

Yahoo reports that Rees-Jones has said that he remembers very little about the crash. However, he says that he was unaware that Paul had been drinking before he got behind the wheel of the car. USA Today reports that Rees-Jones supposedly buckled his seatbelt just seconds before the crash, a move that would have gone against typical procedure for bodyguards.

Read more: Relive Princess Diana’s Funeral With These Touching Photos

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