AP Was There: Princess Diana dies in Paris car crash
PARIS (AP) — The way Princess Diana died 20 years ago this month — in a high-speed Paris car crash while she and her boyfriend were being chauffeured by an intoxicated driver and pursued by photographers — shocked and angered the public. It also preserved her in memory as a glamorous, beloved and vulnerable victim.
Nearly two decades after its original publication, The Associated Press is making available correspondent Christopher Burns’ August 31, 1997 report on the catastrophic accident that ended Diana’s life at age 36.
Britain’s Princess Diana, who had been struggling to build a new life after her turbulent divorce, died Sunday in a car crash after being pursued at high speed by paparazzi on motorcycles.
Her wealthy companion, Dodi Fayed, and their chauffeur also died when their Mercedes crashed in a tunnel along the Seine River at the Pont de l’Alma bridge, just north of the Eiffel Tower.
French police placed into formal custody seven photographers who had previously been detained, looking into whether any of them may have caused the tragedy. A special police unit that usually handles important cases such as terrorism investigations was put in charge of the probe.
The 36-year-old princess has often complained of being plagued by the paparazzi the commercial photographers who have trailed her since she has been in the public eye.
She died at 4 a.m. (0200 GMT) from internal bleeding stemming from major chest and lung injuries, doctors told a hospital news conference.
Despite extensive surgery, “we could not revive her,” said Dr. Bruno Riou, anesthesiologist at Paris’ Hospital de la Pitie Salpetriere.
He said Diana had quickly gone into cardiac arrest, and that doctors had tried to save her for at least two hours with internal and external cardiac massage. She never regained consciousness after the crash, French radio said.
Princes William and Harry were informed of their mother’s death by their father, Prince Charles, at Balmoral Castle, Scotland, where the royal family traditionally spends the summer holidays.
Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince of Wales said they were “deeply shocked and distressed by this terrible news” a Buckingham Palace spokesman said.
Prince Charles, accompanied by Diana’s two sisters, was to travel to Paris later Sunday to accompany her body back to Britain, Buckingham Palace said. President Jacques Chirac and his wife, Bernadette, planned to meet with them late Sunday afternoon.
President Clinton expressed sorrow, saying he and his wife, Hillary, “knew Princess Diana and we were very fond of her.” In a statement from Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, where he is vacationing, Clinton said his thoughts were with Diana’s family, friends “and especially her children.”
The crash happened shortly after midnight, after Diana and Fayed had dined at the Ritz Hotel owned by Fayed’s family and were on their way to a private villa in western Paris, also owned by Fayed, French radio said.
As Diana and Fayed’s black Mercedes entered the tunnel along the Seine River, they reportedly were trailed by at least seven paparazzi on motorcycles in a high-speed pursuit of photos. Six of the photographers were French and one was Macedonian.
France’s interior minister, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, said Diana’s car was traveling at high speed through the tunnel, and the driver lost control. He didn’t specify the speed, but a source close to the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was well over 100 kilometers per hour (60 mph). The speed limit was 50 kph (30 mph).
The source added the two were not believed to be wearing seatbelts.
It said the car crashed into a concrete post in the center divider, then bounced into the right wall. The impact decimated the car, turning it into a heap of crumpled metal and broken glass.
Chevenement said a criminal investigation was underway. France Info radio said at least some of the photographers took pictures before help arrived and one of the photographers was beaten at the scene by horrified witnesses.
Police also impounded two motorcycles and a scooter.
Fayed, the 42-year-old son of the billionaire Egyptian owner of London’s prestigious Harrod’s department store, died immediately. Also killed was the chauffeur a security agent at the Ritz Hotel, owned by Fayed’s father, Mohamed Al Fayed.
Al Fayed identified his son’s body Sunday morning in a Paris morgue.
The fourth person in the car, a bodyguard, was seriously injured in the crash.
Like people in England, French people were shocked and stunned by Diana’s death.
“She had everything,” said Pascale Tremblay, a waitress in a bakery. “She was a truly magnificent woman, a super human being. She was as good as she was beautiful.”
“Her death reminds me of Princess Grace,” she said referring to Grace Kelly, another princess who lost her life on a French road. Grace died in September 1982.
American tourists Tom Richardson and Joanna Luz were among the first on the scene. They told CNN they were walking nearby when they heard the crash and ran into the tunnel.
“There was smoke. I think the car hit a wall,” said Richardson, of San Diego. “A man started running towards us telling us to go.”
“The horn was sounding for about two minutes,” said Miss Luz. “I think it was the driver against the steering wheel.”
Many French people blamed the paparazzi for the accident and called for laws banning such blatant intrusion into the private lives of celebrities.
“Paparazzi and newspapers have to make a living, but this is going too far,” said Madeleine Fabian, a restaurant owner. “The government must establish some regulations to limit the hounding.”
Fayed’s and Princess Diana’s close friendship became clear to the outside world over the past five weeks, as the couple took a series of holidays together in the Mediterranean.
Newspapers reported Diana first met Fayed almost 10 years ago, when he and Prince Charles played polo on opposing teams. Films he has produced or co-produced include the 1981 Oscar-winning “Chariots of Fire,” ″The World According to Garp,” ″F/X” and “Hook.”
On Aug. 21, Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed flew to the French Mediterranean resort of St. Tropez for their third holiday together in five weeks.
Reportedly a multi-millionaire, Fayed had homes in London, New York, Los Angeles and Switzerland as well as a garage full of luxury cars. His 1994 marriage lasted just eight months.
Mohamed Al Fayed was a friend of Princess Diana’s father, the late Lord Spencer.
In the first week of August, British newspapers speculated that Dodi and Diana were in love. On Aug. 10 a tabloid newspaper published blurred pictures of the couple kissing.
Diana and Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, separated in 1992 after 11 years of marriage and divorced last year.
Last week, Diana told the French newspaper Le Monde that she would have left Britain if it wasn’t for her children.
“Any sane person would have left long ago. But I cannot. I have my sons,” Diana said in the interview.