Diana 1961-1997: The tragedy - Game of hide and seek with the paparazzi that ended in carnage

Driver struck pillar on deadly bend in tunnel
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The Independent Online
Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Fayed had been playing hide and seek with the paparazzi since late afternoon. Minutes after they arrived by private jet at Le Bourget airport, word reached the picture agencies that the most sought-after couple in the paparazzi world had arrived in one of the main paparazzi capitals. The game was on. But there was nothing to suggest that this day's game - just one of a thousand identical days for the Princess and her pursuers - would end so violently and so tragically.

Just after 5pm, Paris time, news broke that the Princess and Mr Fayed had landed at Le Bourget. They had last been seen on the Fayed yacht, Jonikal, at Portofino in the Italian Riviera. But the yacht had its own helicopter. It is assumed that it ferried them to the aircraft somewhere in northern Italy or southern France and they flew on to Paris.

Half an hour later, a score of photographers had gathered outside the Ritz Hotel in the Place Vendome in the centre of Paris. The hotel is owned by Dodi's father, Mohamed al-Fayed. It would be one of the likeliest places for a sighting of the couple. The photographers were not disappointed. Soon after 8pm the Princess was seen coming out of the hotel.

Photographers in cars and on motorbikes chased the Princess's car to the Champs Elysees, where she went shopping before returning to the Ritz for dinner with Dodi. At the end of the evening, a number of decoy limousines sped away from the hotel, in an attempt to draw off the pack.

Just after midnight, the couple's black Mercedes 600 tried to slip away unseen. Seven photographers on motorbikes gave chase. The Mercedes, with the Princess and Dodi in the back seats, a chauffeur and bodyguard in the front, headed down the Rue de Rivoli, and across the Place de la Concorde, too crowded with traffic to give the bikes the slip. But then the car reached the faster roads along the banks of the Seine.

Witnesses reported the car travelling at "enormous speed" as it headed west along the Cours Albert Premier and entered the underpass beneath the Place d'Alma, presumably heading for the Fayed townhouse in the fashionable 16th arrondissement. The paparazzi bikes were still in close pursuit.

The short tunnel has a wickedly sharp left-hand bend.

At about 12 minutes past midnight, the Mercedes struck one of the pillars dividing the westbound carriageway of the tunnel from the eastbound. It struck at least one more pillar and then rebounded against the tunnel wall on the other side. It finished, the right way up but facing the wrong way, horrifically crushed at the front and the back, with part of the engine in the front passenger seat.

The car was thought to have been travelling at 100kph (around 60mph) in a 50kph area. At the presumed point of initial impact, the car was crushed to a depth of one metre, police said. One rumour suggests later that a bike cut in front of the car. Police sources say this is not so. There is no evidence that any of the bikes were directly involved in the crash. The working assumption is that the driver misjudged the bend.

Emergency services were called to the scene at 12.27am. Dodi and the driver were dead; the Princess of Wales unconscious; her bodyguard conscious but seriously injured. An emergency medical team removed the Princess from the car and attempted for at least 30 minutes, one report suggests for longer, to revive her at the roadside.

Witness reports say that, meanwhile, the pursuing photographers had stopped at the crash scene and taken pictures. One of them was attacked physically by other witnesses. American tourists, who passed in a car just after the accident, said there was "a great argument" going on. The seven photographers, six French and one Macedonian, and several other witnesses, were taken for questioning to police headquarters beside Notre-Dame cathedral. They remained there all day. Police confiscated 20 rolls of film from the photographers, who work for the Stills, Gamma and Sipa agencies.

At around 1.30am, the Princess of Wales arrived at the Hopital de la Pitie Salpetriere, in the 13th arrondissement. She had wounds to her skull, arms and leg but the most serious injuries were internal, a damaged lung and torn veins, caused by the violence of the impact itself. The French minister of the interior, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, and the British ambassador, Sir Michael Jay, went to her bedside.

For more than two hours, two doctors, Professor Bruno Riou and Professor Philippe Pavie, attempted to revive the Princess. They conducted external and internal heart massages and a thoractomy (opening of the thorax). Professor Riou explained later that the internal injuries, including a severely torn pulmonary vein which he had patched to no avail, were caused by the effects on the body of a sudden stop at high speed.

At four o'clock in the morning, Diana, Princess of Wales, died from "haemorrhaging in the chest, followed by heart failure".

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