On August 31, it will be the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana Spencer's death, marking two decades since the tragic accident that took her life. The media blitz that both preceded and followed her passing defined her as an icon even as it robbed her of her privacy; she left a huge impact on a world that was fascinated by her every move. But so much time has passed since her shocking and sudden death that the details of how exactly the accident occurred have faded somewhat from public consciousness. The timeline of Princess Diana's death can help explain what happened.
Many different networks are producing specials to honor Diana's memory as the 20th anniversary approaches. ABC teamed up with People magazine for The Story of Diana, which will air in two parts on August 9 and 10; People has a particular connection with Diana after featuring her on their cover a grand total of 57 times, providing a glimpse into just how much media attention Diana was able to generate throughout her life and after. Part of that was due to the nature of the accident that killed her, Dodi Al-Fayed, and driver Henri Paul: a chase that involved the paparazzi was long believed to have caused the crash, though later it became clear the driver's intoxication also played a part.
August 30, 1997
After vacationing in the Mediterranean earlier in the month, Diana and Al-Fayed arrived in Paris, where they supposedly planned to spend a single night before she returned to London the following day. It was reported that they were followed by paparazzi from the minute they landed, causing their plans to change several times over the course of the day. Eventually they decided to have dinner at the Ritz Hotel.
August 30, 1997 – 10:01 P.M.
Allegedly, driver Henri Paul (who was also deputy head of security at the Ritz) enjoyed a few drinks at the Vendome bar at the hotel alongside bodyguards Trevor Rees-Jones and Kez Wingfield while waiting for Diana and Al-Fayed to finish dinner.
August 30, 1997 – 11:37 P.M.
Diana and Al-Fayed planned to return to his apartment by the Champs Elysées. Along with Paul and the guards, they decided to use a decoy car to confuse the photographers when they left the hotel.
August 31, 1997 – 12:20 A.M.
Diana, Al-Fayed, and Rees-Jones left the Ritz in a Mercedes driven by Paul. Shortly after, the car crashed into a pillar in the Alma tunnel. Paul and Al-Fayed were killed, but the other members of the party survived the initial impact with injuries. The only person to ultimately survive the crash was Rees-Jones.
Coincidentally, a doctor named Frédéric Mailliez was passing and stopped to help. Police and emergency services began to arrive, but it took almost an hour to extricate Diana from the car and send her to the hospital.
August 31, 1997 – 04:00 A.M.
Princess Diana was declared dead at the Pitié-Salpétrière Hospital. She had suffered cardiac arrest before leaving the site of the crash, and doctors also discovered that her pulmonary vein was torn. It was unlikely that she could have survived that, though hours were spent trying to save her. She was only 36 years old.
September 1, 1997
Blood tests done during Paul's autopsy showed that he was intoxicated at the time of the accident.
September 6, 1997
Diana's funeral was held at Westminster Abbey.
The accident that caused Princess Diana's death was so unexpected that it's no wonder people have fixated on it for years, searching for some kind of explanation or meaning. But it was just a horrible accident that cost a woman her life. It was a tragedy, but that's the truth.