Princess Diana’s Death – Lady Di’s final hours

What really happened in the early hours of August 31, 1997?


In the early hours of the morning on Sunday, August 31, 1997, Princess Diana died in a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris, France. In the car with her was her current boyfriend, Dodi Al Fayed; Henri Paul, the driver of the car; and Trevor Rees-Jones, her bodyguard. Rees-Jones was the only survivor.

Here’s the true story of Princess Diana’s death:

Princess Diana and Dodi planned to be in Paris for less than 24 hours

Diana and Dodi had spent 10 days together on board Mohamed Al Fayed’s yacht, the Jonikal, and then flew from Sardinia to Paris on August 30, 1997. She was due back in London on August 31, 1997, where her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, were returning from Balmoral Castle.

The two arrived in Paris around 3 p.m., and went from the airport to Villa Windsor, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s former home that Mohammed Al Fayed purchased. From there, they went to the Ritz Paris, owned by the Fayed family. During this time, Princess Diana spoke to her sons on the phone. While at the Ritz, Dodi visited the Repossi jewelry shop in Place Vendôme.

Early in the evening, they left the Ritz for Dodi’s apartment on Rue Arsène Houssaye.

Diana, Princess of Wales, arrives at the Ritz Hotel in Paris (file photo made from a security video) - August 30, 1997
Diana, Princess of Wales, arrives at the Ritz Hotel in Paris (file photo made from a security video) – August 30, 1997

The couple planned to eat dinner at Chez Benoit around 9:30 p.m., but due to paparazzi attention, ended up back at the Ritz. They first tried to eat at the L’Espadon restaurant, but 10 minutes later, went to dine in private in the Imperial Suite. According to the Associated Press, “Diana is reported to have ordered an appetizer of mushrooms and asparagus, and then sole; for Dodi, turbot.”

The fatal drive began just after midnight

Shortly after midnight, they decided to leave the hotel to go to Dodi’s apartment. Henri Paul, the head of the Ritz security, drove them in a Mercedes S280 car. (Autopsy results later revealed that Paul was drunk.) They left around 12:20 a.m. through the back entrance of the hotel.

Though they had attempted to use a decoy car at the Ritz, paparazzi quickly picked up their tail. In the car, neither Princess Diana nor Dodi were wearing seat belts; Rees-Jones, sitting in the passenger seat, was reportedly wearing one.

Around 12:25 a.m., the car entered the Pont de l’Alma tunnel at dangerously high speeds. As the AP reports, “Seconds after the car enters the tunnel in the left westbound lane, it goes out of control, striking the 13th concrete pillar dividing the tunnel, rolls over and rebounds into the right wall. It then spins around. When the car stops, it is facing east — the direction it came from.”

An account from a doctor at the scene:

At the same time as the crash, a French doctor, Dr. Frederic Mailliez, was driving through the tunnel. Witnessing the crash, he quickly rushed to the scene.

Dr. Frederic Mailliez was the first to reach the scene
Dr. Frederic Mailliez was the first to reach the scene

“I walked toward the wreckage. I opened the door, and I looked inside,” he recalled years later. He saw “four people, two of them were apparently dead, no reaction, no breathing, and the two others, on the right side, were living but in severe condition. The front passenger was screaming, he was breathing. He could wait a few minutes. And the female passenger, the young lady, was on her knees on the floor of the Mercedes, she had her head down. She had difficulty to breathe. She needed quick assistance.”

He ran to his car, called emergency services, and grabbed a respiratory bag. “She was unconscious. Thanks to my respiratory bag… she regained a little bit more energy, but she couldn’t say anything.”

Princess Diana was taken to the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital

At 12:27 a.m., firefighters received a call for help, and police and firefighters arrived at 12:40 a.m. When they arrived, both the driver, Henri Paul, and Dodi were pronounced dead at the scene. Witnesses later testified that paparazzi continued taking photos, and seven photographers were taken into police custody at the scene.

Sergeant Xavier Gourmelon, a firefighter, who was on the scene, said Princess Diana’s last words were “My God, what’s happened?”

When Princess Diana was extracted from the wreckage of the car, she went into cardiac arrest. First responders performed CPR, and got her into a hospital. Around 2 a.m., the Princess and Rees-Jones arrived at the hospital.

FILE – In this early Sunday Aug.31, 1997 file photo police guard the entrance to the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital in Paris, France, where Diana, Princess of Wales, was taken following a car crash in which she was killed. 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. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File) AppleMark

Per CNNs report at the time, “Ambulance workers managed to revive her at the crash scene, but her heart stopped beating on arrival at the hospital, said Dr. Bruno Riou, head of the hospital’s intensive care unit. Surgeons opened Diana’s injured chest, closed a wound in her heart and massaged the heart for two hours in a vain battle to save her life, he said.”

Why didn’t Diana have more protection with her?

Years later, in Operation Paget—the investigation into Princess Diana’s death spurred by numerous conspiracy theories that surrounded it—the report stated, ” In 1994, at her request, official personal protection had been removed from the Princess of Wales. She wanted less intrusion into her private life. Until then, the MPS ‘Specialist Operations’ Command had routinely provided protection to her as a senior member of the Royal Family. From 1994 onwards she received such protection only if she was on an official visit that warranted such security or if members of the Royal Family who warranted protection in their own right, most obviously her sons, accompanied her.”

Diana’s death is announced to the world

Princess Diana was declared dead at around 4 a.m. in Paris on August 31, 1997; she was 36 years old. At 6 a.m., Dr. Alain Pavie, head of the cardiology department at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, held a news conference, announcing the death of the Princess of Wales. The British ambassador to France, Michael Jay, was there. He said, “The death of the Princess of Wales fills us all with shock and deep grief.”

Later that day, then-Prince Charles flew to Paris with Diana’s sisters, Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes, to bring her body home. Princess Diana’s funeral was held on September 6, 1997.

Princess Diana’s death shook the entire world.

A paparazzi pursuit of one of the planet’s most famous and beloved figures proved deadly, and many questions and conspiracy theories remain about her tragic passing—though none have any basis in fact, according to experts and investigators.

Here is the truth about Princess Diana’s crash and how Princess Diana died, coming not long after the 25th anniversary of her tragic passing and just ahead of Netflix’s Season 6 premiere of The Crown.

How did Princess Diana die?

Princess Diana died from injuries sustained in a car accident that occurred near midnight on Aug. 31, 1997.

In an effort to evade the photographers who hounded her every move, Diana’s driver, Henri Paul, was reportedly under the influence and speeding at nearly twice the posted limit in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris. He lost control of the vehicle carrying the People’s Princess, her boyfriend Dodi Fayed and their bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, and crashed into a wall of the tunnel, then into a pillar supporting the structure. Fayed and Paul were killed instantly. Diana was still alive, and emergency services arrived to the scene within five minutes and transported her to a hospital, but she wouldn’t survive. She ultimately succumbed to her injuries at 4:53 a.m. on Aug. 31, 1997.

What injuries did Princess Diana die from? How did Diana die in a car crash?

Diana suffered from a concussion, broken arm and a cut to her thigh in the crash, but what ultimately took her life were her severe chest wounds. Her heart was displaced in her chest and she suffered a tear to her pulmonary vein that proved lethal and caused internal bleeding. After several hours in the operating room, surgeons were unable to get her heart to beat properly. It’s been speculated that if Diana had been wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash, she may have survived with only relatively minor injuries.

Who was in the car when Princess Diana died?

Princess Diana and her boyfriend, film producer Dodi Fayed, were in the rear passenger seats of the 1996 Mercedes-Benz W140 S-Class where they spent their final waking moments. Trevor Rees-Jones, a security detail for the Fayed family, was in the front passenger seat. Henri Paul, deputy head of security at the Hôtel Ritz Paris (a property owned by Fayed’s father, Mohamed Al-Fayed), was behind the wheel. Rees-Jones was the only survivor from the crash.

Who drove the car that killed Diana?

Paul was behind the wheel during the crash that killed Princess Diana. His blood-alcohol level was reportedly three times over the French legal limit at the time of the fatal accident.

Was Diana’s car tampered?

[British intelligence services] MI5 or MI6 were involved.” Simmons told the police Diana sent her a note which she recalled read along the lines: “Dear Simone, as you know, the brakes of my car have been tampered with.

What happened the night Lady Diana died?

Dodi and Paul were killed outright, while Diana and Rees-Jones suffered major injuries. An ambulance arrived on the scene within minutes and the medical team began treating the Princess for a cardiac arrest, before she was transferred to the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital in the French capital.

How old was Princess Diana when she died?

Princess Diana was 36 years old at the time of her death.

What were Princess Diana’s last words?

According to a firefighter who responded to the crash site, Diana’s last words were, “My God, what has happened?”

Related: Before She Died In August 1997, These Were Princess Diana’s Final Words

Who was Princess Diana’s boyfriend when she died?

At the time of her death, Princess Diana was dating Dodi Fayed, a film producer and son of Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed.

How long was Diana with Dodi?

According to reports, Diana and Fayed were only together for about a month when they were killed in the tragic crash.

What clothes were Princess Diana buried in?

According to Andrew Morton‘s biography Diana: Her True Story In Her Own Words, she was buried in a long-sleeved black wool Catherine Walker cocktail dress, black pantyhose and black heels. She was buried with several photographs of Prince William and Prince Harry, as well as rosary beads she received from Mother Teresa.

Where is Princess Diana buried?

Princess Diana is buried on the Spencer Estate grounds in Althorp Park. Her grave is on an island in a decorative, man-made lake to ensure her family and close friends can mourn her peacefully and privately.

Why was Princess Diana buried in a lead coffin?

Princess Diana was buried in a lead coffin as a matter of British royal tradition, but also for a somewhat practical reason as well: lead-lined caskets reportedly preserve bodies longer than traditional wooden ones because they are air-tight.

Was Princess Diana cremated?

Diana was buried, not cremated.

Did the Queen cry at Diana’s funeral?

Queen Elizabeth II reportedly bowed her head at Diana’s funeral but did not publicly shed any tears, but it wasn’t personal: The famously stoic royal matriarch rarely ever grieved publicly, even for those closest to her.

Was the Queen upset when Diana died?

Years later, a private letter she wrote at the time was published—revealing Queen Elizabeth’s feelings on Princess Diana’s death. “It was indeed dreadfully sad, and she is a huge loss to the country,” Queen Elizabeth wrote to Lady Henriette Abel Smith, one of her ladies in waiting.

Join us as we celebrate the compassion, grace, and unwavering commitment to positive change that defined Princess Diana's remarkable journey.