Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, died in a car accident at the entrance to the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris on 31 August 1997. Her life and death had a lasting impact on the British royal family and the world. . Frederic Mailliez, the first doctor on the scene, recounts what happened that fateful night and admits he “still feels a little responsible for her last moments”.
Diana Spencer, the Princess of Wales, and her partner, Egyptian film producer Dodi Fayed, left the Ritz Hotel in Paris en route to Fayed’s apartment on Rue Arsène Houssaye shortly after midnight on August 31, 1997.
The other two occupants of the car were driver Henri Paul, who was the Ritz’s deputy security chief, and Trevor Rees-Jones, a member of the Fayed family’s personal protection team.
After crossing the Place de la Concorde, the car entered the Pont de l’Alma tunnel at 00:23 when Paul lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a pillar.
First doctor on the scene
Dr. Frederic Mailliez, the first doctor on the scene, is still scarred by what happened on that fateful night 25 years ago and by the knowledge that he was one of the last people to see Princess Diana alive.
“I realize my name will always be tied to this tragic night,” he told The Associated Press Mailliez, who was off duty and on his way home from a party when he stumbled upon the car accident. “I feel a little responsible for his last moments of him.”
Mailliez was driving into the tunnel when he saw a steaming Mercedes limo almost split in two. “I walked towards the wreck. I opened the door and looked inside, “he told her.
He describes what he saw: “Four people, two of whom apparently dead, no reaction, no breathing. And the other two, on the right side, lived but in serious condition. The front passenger was screaming: he was breathing, he could wait a few minutes. And the passenger, the young lady, was on her knees on the floor of the Mercedes. Her head was down, she was having difficulty breathing. She needed quick assistance. “
He ran to his car to call emergency services and get a breathing balloon, a balloon-like device that helps someone breathe. “She was unconscious,” she said. “Thanks to my breathing bag (…) she regained a little more energy, but she couldn’t say anything.”
“I know it’s amazing, but I didn’t recognize Princess Diana,” she said. “I was in the car in the back seat giving assistance. I realized she was very beautiful, but my attention was so focused on what I had to do to save her life that I didn’t have time to think: ‘Who was this woman?’ “.
“Someone behind me told me that the victims spoke English, so I started speaking English, saying I was a doctor and called an ambulance,” he said. “I tried to comfort her.”
While working, he noticed that the paparazzi had gathered to take photos of the scene. But Mailliez said he had no criticism of their actions. “They didn’t stop me from having access to the victims. … I didn’t ask them for help, but they didn’t interfere with my work ”.
Firefighters arrived quickly and Diana was taken to a Paris hospital around 1:40 am. She died over an hour later, at 3 am. Her partner Fayed and the driver also died.
“It was a huge shock to learn that she was Princess Diana and she is dead,” Mailliez said.
Then the doubts began. “Did I do everything possible to save her? Did I do my job correctly? “She wondered.” I checked with my medical professors and I checked with police detectives, “she said. They all agreed that she had done everything she could.
But Mailliez wasn’t the only one with questions about that night. As speculation and rumors swirled, Britain launched what proved to be the longest and most expensive investigation in its history to find the truth behind Diana’s death. After nearly six months and hearing more than 250 witnesses, a jury ruled in 2008 that Diana and Fayed had been illegally killed by the careless driving of Henri Paul, who had been drunk and drove at high speed to shake off the paparazzi.
A lasting legacy
The British public was deprived of the loss of the charming Diana, known worldwide for her charitable works.
His life and untimely death remain a source of continued public interest, as evidenced by the wealth of films and documentaries describing his life, including recently released “Spencer” and “The Princess”, as well as the acclaimed series. Netflix “The Crown”. “.
The tragic epilogue in Paris also put the spotlight on the British royal family, whose reaction to Diana’s death at first seemed at odds with the public outpouring of grief. The Queen subsequently paid tribute to Diana and addressed the “overwhelming expression of sadness” seen around the world.
“Diana’s death is this whirlwind moment, requiring the monarchy to reorient its public image, to embrace a more modern and expressive type of celebrity image as a way to appeal to the public,” royal historian Ed Owens told the audience. ‘AFP.
The monarchy now has a much more agile PR operation, proficient in social media and quick response while still being able to throw big events, like this year’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, with aplomb.
However, recent controversies – most notably the revelations about Prince Andrew’s ties to billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, and Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle leaving royal duties at the forefront – have cast doubt on the future of the monarchy.
Harry’s exit leaves “a huge hole” in the institution, Owens said, pointing to “troubled times” for the monarchy. “Meghan also embodied some of the virtues that Diana had tried to project, in terms of emotion and being in touch … with the lives of people in developing countries,” he added.
The excitement is still palpable at the Pont de l’Alma, where the nearby Freedom Flame monument has become an unofficial memorial site that attracts Diana fans of all generations and nationalities. She has become an iconic figure even for those born after her death.
Francine Rose, a 16-year-old Dutch woman who stopped at the memorial on a bicycle trip to Paris, said she discovered Diana’s story through a film. “Diana is an inspiration because she was evolving into a strict family – the royal family – and she just wanted to be free.”
(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)