What It Was Really Like The Day Princess Diana Died

Princess Diana died on August 31, 1997, at the age of 36. She was tragically killed in a devastating car accident in Paris along with her partner, Dodi Al Fayed, and the driver who was escorting the couple (via Biography). In the minutes and hours after the crash, the international news cycle was dominated by the incident and the death of the globally loved Princess. People were stunned and saddened, and the days after her passing were rife with conspiracy theories about how she died, anger at French paparazzi, and criticism of the Royal Family. 

The cause of the crash was blamed on the paparazzi, who were allegedly chasing the famous Princess to snap photos of her. In an attempt to escape them, their French driver, Henri Paul, apparently drove at high speed. Sadly, all three perished in the crash that happened shortly after; the lone survivor was the princess' bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones (via The Irish Times).

The first hour after Princess Diana's car crash

The tragic crash happened a few minutes after midnight. Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed had only been in Paris for a day. On August 31, they left the Ritz Paris hotel they were staying in and headed to Fayed's apartment, located several minutes away. But on their way out of the hotel, a group of paparazzi had already formed to get pictures of the famous princess and her new beau. The pair got into the backseat of a Mercedes Benz driven by Henri Paul, with Princess Diana's bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, sitting beside him. Just after taking off from the hotel, the paparazzi continued to pursue the car on motorcycles. Paul, in his effort to escape them, began to speed. The Mercedes then arrived at the entrance of the Pont de l'Alma tunnel and crashed shortly after entering the route. A doctor traveling along the same route arrived on the scene and called for medical services, which came about seven minutes after the crash, says ABC News.

Per History, Fayed and Paul were pronounced dead at the scene, and a badly injured Princess Diana was still alive but quickly taken to a hospital along with her bodyguard, Rees-Jones.

The site of the accident

Inside the Pont de l'Alma tunnel was the mangled Mercedes-Benz that was transporting Princess Diana and the three other men. The fatal accident was a single-vehicle crash. After the collision, the paparazzi following them apparently didn't stop trying to get exclusive photographs of the famous royal — they continued to snap pictures of Princess Diana and the vehicle even after it lost control and ultimately crashed, per Reuters. One paparazzo allegedly called a British tabloid from the scene of the accident, asking for a six-figure price tag for the photos he had just taken. He had snapped photos of the car, some of which showed a dying Princess Diana.

The accident site was cordoned off, and investigators began scrutinizing the scene. But their probe was hindered by paparazzi who repeatedly snapped pictures of the princess and kept doing so until more officers came on to the scene, per CNN.

Scenes at the French hospital she was taken to

Princess Diana was taken to Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris. She was still alive inside the destroyed car and apparently even had some final words. The paparazzi were so relentless in their pursuit of the princess that even as she approached death, some of the last words she was able to vocalize was her annoyance with them. Per the Los Angeles Times, she told them: "Leave me alone," and said, "Oh my God." The doctor who treated the princess at the scene told reporters that she was clearly unnerved and in and out of consciousness.

En route to the hospital, two police motorcycles accompanied the ambulance. During the controversial slow ride to the medical facility, the princess had to be revived at least once (via Reader's Digest). The truck was going at 25 mph, and the driver would later say that he was instructed by the doctor providing her care to drive slowly to prevent further injury to the princess, per The Guardian.

The ambulance arrived at the hospital at 2 a.m. The princess' personal driver — who went to secure her room — told outlets that her hospital room was like an exhibition, with various people walking in and out (via People Magazine). He stated that there was a lack of privacy, and it became a spectator event as people tried to get a look at the dying royal (via the Daily Mirror).

When the world learned Princess Diana died

Though Princess Diana was taken alive from the scene of the accident and revived in the ambulance, it wouldn't be too long before she died. She suffered from internal bleeding as a result of the crash and ultimately succumbed to her injuries at 4 a.m. (via UPI). The world learned of her death shortly after, and there was an outpouring of sorrow (via CBS News).

Scores of people turned to Buckingham Palace to honor the princess and mourn her death by placing flowers, cards, and photos of her outside of the famous royal residence (via Reader's Digest). Upon hearing about her accident, Princess Diana's sisters, Sarah McCorquodale and Jane Fellowes, arrived at the hospital with her ex-husband, Prince Charles (via Associated Press). Later that day, her body arrived in the U.K. in the early evening hours, per CNN.

The reaction to her death

The media was heavily blamed for the death of Princess Diana. At the time of her death, she was one of the most photographed women in the world, says The Baltimore Sun. When people learned that paparazzi were chasing Diana's vehicle to get pictures of her, they were quickly blamed for causing the crash that killed her. Buckingham Palace also faced a lot of anger as people wondered why the flags weren't flown at half-mast immediately after news of the princess' death, the BBC reported. But by the time her body arrived, most of the flags in the country welcomed her coffin at half-staff (via CNN).

In the years before her death, the media often spread speculative and unconfirmed stories about Princess Diana's life and marriage. After her divorce from Prince Charles, she became an even bigger celebrity, and the media continued to grow obsessed with her. On the day she died, her brother, Earl Spencer, told the Associated Press who he believed was undoubtedly to blame for her death. "I always believed the press would kill her in the end. Every one of them ... has blood on his hands," he said.