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LIFE Magazine

On This Day: Princess Diana Is Killed in Paris Car Crash

August 31, 2011 06:00 AM
by James Sullivan
On Aug. 31, 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, died from injuries sustained during a car crash in a Paris underpass.

A Nation Goes Into Mourning

Early on the morning of Aug. 31, Princess Diana, her boyfriend Dodi al-Fayed, and their driver Henri Paul, were killed when their car crashed in an underpass alongside the Seine in Paris.

The princess was transported to Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital in southeast Paris, where she died in intensive care. French Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement announced her death. Although gravely injured, Diana’s bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones survived the crash.

A police spokesman reported that photographers on motorcycles were pursuing the car at the time of the crash, and that their presence could have contributed to the accident. No criminal action was ever leveled against the photographers.

Later, gross negligence on the part of the driver Henri Paul was found to be the primary cause of the accident. Paul was intoxicated and driving at high speeds when he lost control of the car. Additionally, no passengers in the automobile were wearing seatbelts.

Princess Diana’s funeral was attended by over a million people, and televised to an international audience of 2.5 billion.

Conspiracy Theory and Inquest

In the aftermath of the crash, Mohamed al-Fayed, the father of Dodi al-Fayed and owner of London’s Harrods department store, argued that his son and Diana were murdered in a plot orchestrated by Prince Philip. His claims were explored further during a 6-month inquest into the accident in 2008. The inquest determined that Princess Diana and Dodi al-Fayed were “unlawfully killed” in owing to the “gross negligence” of driver Henri Paul and the paparazzi. Unsatisfied by the result, al-Fayed pledged to continue his search for the truth.

According to Mohamed al-Fayed, Princess Diana and Dodi al-Fayed were killed by a vast network of conspirators, including British, French and American special intelligence agencies. He called Queen Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip, a “Nazi” and said he directed the assassination. Diana and Dodi were killed so that Prince Charles could marry Camilla, and because Prince Philip allegedly wouldn’t tolerate Diana's carrying a Muslim’s child.

Following al-Fayed’s statement about a conspiracy theory, many members of the British press expressed disapproval at his decision to institute legal proceedings. In January 2008, Max Hastings of The Guardian wrote, “Every police officer, French and British, who has examined the case since 1997 has reported that the princess’s death was the result of a tragic accident.” He went on to argue that Mohamed al-Fayed’s theories are “unsupported by any plausible evidence, and this was obvious at the start of the inquest.”

Reference: Diana, Princess of Wales

The BBC features a biography of Diana on its Web site that includes the nation’s grief and the controversy that followed her death: “The general public awoke to the news of Diana’s death with a mixture of shock and disbelief. A wave of public condemnation for the paparazzi who had hounded her for the past 16 years turned into baying for royal blood as the royal family stayed cloistered away at Balmoral in Scotland where they were having their summer holiday.”

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