Princess Diana's Death

Princess Diana – Driver’s View of Final Journey in Paris – February 1998

Run throughs of the route the car carrying Diana, Princess of Wales took on its fatal journey on 31 August 1997 in central Paris. This footage was taken by London’s Metropolitan Police on Saturday 21 February 1998, just under six months after the tragedy that caused the deaths of Diana, Dodi Fayed and their impromptu driver Henri Paul as well as serious injuries to bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones.

The car equipped with the camera reaches the rear entrance of the Ritz Hotel in the Rue Cambon at 00:53. The route continues after a right turn into the Rue de Rivoli at 01:55 before joining the Place de la Concorde. The red traffic light at Avenue des Champs-Élysées that Henri Paul was stopped at, and Trevor Rees-Jones remembers them taking off at speed from, is seen at 3:28. After the lights, the car turned right onto Cours La Reine which is the beginning of the embankment expressway way that runs parallel to the River Seine. The route then passes through the underpass for the Pont Alexandre III. At 5:12, the slip road onto Avenue George V that it is thought Henri Paul would have intended to take to get to Dodi’s apartment in Rue Arsene- Houssaye is seen. It is likely that Mercedes was simply travelling too fast at this point to have made the turn. Eyewitnesses estimated it as travelling between 90 and 140 kilometres per hour (60-90mph) on its approach to the Place D’Alma underpass. The police car passes the 13th pillar of the Alma underpass where the Mercedes crashed at 5:31.

It is likely the purpose of the recording of the route was for evidence to be presented at Diana’s and Dodi’s inquests. Due to various legal challenges brought by Dodi’s father Mohammed Al Fayed, the inquests were substantially delayed and this footage was not presented in an English court until 3 October 2007, almost 10 years after it had been captured.

The British police team ran through the route of Diana’s fatal journey a total of six times on that day in 1998: at 5:57, 10:17 (the staff entrance of the Ritz Hotel where Diana walked from before getting into the car can be seen at 12:24), 21:45, 27:16 and 33.30 The last three runs were done around midnight so they were indicative of the traffic conditions at the time of the actual fatal journey which started 17 minutes past midnight on 31 August 1997. The car driven by Henri Paul was a 1994 Mercedes S280, registration number 688 LTV 75.

On the last of the runs (at 37:00) the police driver accelerates up to 60 mph, presumably to give a better idea of the speed Henri Paul was going at as he approached the Alma Underpass. The speed of the Mercedes was estimated at 60 to 65 mph when it crashed into the pillar and it was found to have been braking for some distance before so it probable that from the Alexandre III tunnel onwards, Henri Paul was driving well in excess of 70mph on a road where the speed limit is 31mph (50kph). This is supported by eyewitness estimates of the Mercedes’ speed. It is worth noting that a number of the Parisian drivers captured by the police camera in 1998 are choosing to ignore the speed limit however, it is evident from the video that at the time there were not many signs advising of the speed limit along the route. There are now, in 2014, 50kph speed limit signs at the entrance to the Alma Underpass and at other places along the route.

The excessive speed that Henri Paul drove the Mercedes was the direct cause of his loss of control once he entered the Alma Underpass. Along with the non-use of seatbelts, the speed was also a significant cause of the extent of the horrific injuries to all four occupants of the vehicle.

Crown Copyright and the source file is courtesy of the UK National Archives.

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