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13 Things We Still Don’t Know About Princess Diana’s Death

Official investigations have delved into the details surrounding the car crash that killed Princess Diana, but several questions still remain unanswered.

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Pictures From the Inquest into the Death of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed - Oct 2007Shutterstock

Why didn’t the driver stick to the usual route?

If all had gone as expected, Princess Diana’s car would never have been in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in the first place on the fateful evening of August 31, 1997. Driver Henri Paul did start with the “preferred” route of professional chauffeurs by avoiding traffic from the Champs-Elysées as he drove Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi Al-Fayed from dinner at the Ritz Hotel to Al-Fayed’s apartment, but he veered off before the tunnel. The best route would have been to take a certain exit slip road, but Paul sped past it. Some people claim that the route was purposely blocked to lure him into a planned crash scene, but investigators deny that it was intentional. There could have been cars blocking the way, but it’s more likely that he was just driving too fast to make it off without losing control—though it’s still unclear why he wouldn’t have slowed down before the turn.

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Did a white car clip Princess Diana’s?

Officially, just one car was involved in Princess Diana’s death: The black Mercedes she was in. Beyond that, witnesses’ memories don’t match up about what other vehicles were potentially involved, though several witnesses said they saw a white Fiat Uno or another light-coloured car driving haphazardly away from the scene. When investigators found white paint on the side of the black Mercedes, conspiracy theorists suggested photojournalist James Andanson, who often took photos of Princess Diana and owned a white Fiat Uno—and died in a car fire in the woods about three years after the accident—purposely clipped the car and then sped off. Forensics and his alibi suggest it was unlikely that he was there the night of Diana’s death, but the real white Fiat (if there was one) was never traced.

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France Diana Report - Dec 2006Oliver Weiken/EPA/Shutterstock

Were there any motorcycles around?

The white Fiat was the most scrutinized car in question, but there are differing reports about other vehicles too. Some witnesses said there weren’t any motorcycles around, but others mention seeing between one and five. In a plot twist, some witnesses claim that the bikers purposely caused the Mercedes carrying Diana to crash, peeking inside the car before speeding away. In the end, the investigation couldn’t pinpoint how many (or if there were any) motorcycles on the scene, or who they belonged to—paparazzi, assassins, or otherwise—though they did conclude the crash wasn’t premeditated.

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Pictures From the Inquest into the Death of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed - Oct 2007Shutterstock

Did a bright light blind the driver?

Witnesses said they saw a bright flash in the tunnel just before Diana’s car crashed into a pillar, some saying they came from the back of a scooter. Those claims, in turn, led to suggestions that the flash had come on purpose to blind driver Paul and make him lose control of the vehicle. The official report concluded that even if there had been a light bright enough to blind Paul, the car was already on its way to crashing when it happened. Since other witnesses didn’t recall a flash or only saw flashes of photography after the crash, there’s still a question as to what those other witnesses did see in the moment before the accident.

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PRINCESS DIANA VISIT TO ANGOLA - 1997Photo: Tim Rooke/Shutterstock

Was she engaged (or about to be)?

Princess Diana’s lover, Dodi Al-Fayed, also died in the Paris crash—though some have later claimed that a better title for him would have been “fiancé.” CCTV footage and eyewitness accounts revealed that Al-Fayed went to a jewelry store with the Ritz Hotel president’s assistant, and the assistant later went back to the shop and bought two rings. One of those rings was from the Tell Me Yes engagement line, but Al-Fayed’s father and butler are the only ones who claim the couple had planned to announce their engagement the day after their deaths, and the butler was the only one who claimed Diana had seen the ring. Diana’s confidantes say they either knew nothing about a ring or had been told that if Al-Fayed did give her a diamond, she’d wear it on her right hand because she didn’t want him to feel put out.

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Why did they leave in the first place?

Diana and Al-Fayed had already dealt with a couple of ruined plans that fateful night. They’d hoped to eat at a bistro in the Paris city centre but decided to go to the restaurant at the Ritz Hotel, which Al-Fayed’s father owned, when they saw paparazzi swarming the original spot. Even the Ritz dining room wasn’t safe from prying eyes of other diners, so they asked their food to be brought to the hotel’s Imperial Suite instead. To sneak past paparazzi and get to Al-Fayed’s apartment, they had to send out a decoy car and ask security guard Henri Paul, who wasn’t an official chauffeur, to drive them. So why didn’t they just hunker down in the hotel? Al-Fayed’s butler insists her lover planned to propose in the apartment, but he seems to be the only one who knew of any plans for that.

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Inquest into the death of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed, High Court, London, Britain - 24 Jan 2008Steve Maisey/Shutterstock

Was the bodyguard wearing a seatbelt?

Diana’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, was the only survivor of the crash, but he came out with severe head injuries and doesn’t remember much about the night. Initial reports suggested that he had worn a seatbelt, and that’s what saved him, but an official investigation of the crash said no one (Rees-Jones included) had theirs buckled. The bodyguard himself says that he can’t remember whether his was on or not, but he was “pleased for himself” when reports came out that his was unbuckled, because bodyguards are supposed to leave theirs undone so they can snap into action if needed.

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Pictures From the Inquest into the Death of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed - Oct 2007Shutterstock

Why wasn’t anyone wearing a seatbelt?

Regardless of whether or not Rees-Jones was wearing a seatbelt when the car hit the pillar in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris, there’s no question that Diana wasn’t strapped in, and neither were Al-Fayed or Henri Paul. The pathologist who conducted Princess Diana’s autopsy is convinced she would have survived the crash if she’d buckled up, leaving those asking “what if” to also question why she hadn’t taken the safety precaution when riding in a car that was racing at speeds up to 170 kilometres per hour. Even recently, Diana’s sister Lady Sarah McCorquodale said in a documentary that Diana “was religious in putting on her seatbelt,” and she’ll never know what was different about that night.

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Diana Princess Of Wales - 8th October 1985 The Princess Of Wales Visits St. Giles' Hospital 'drug Dependency' Unit Today.....royalty Princess Diana Of Wales (died 31/8/1997)James Gray/Daily Mail/Shutterstock

What were Princess Diana’s last words?

At the scene of the crash and during Diana’s treatment, emergency responders and doctors were more worried about her survival, not taking notes on her last words. One early report said she’d shouted “Oh my God, leave me alone, leave me alone!” but 20 years after the tragedy, a firefighter came forward and claimed her final words had been “My God, what’s happened?” before going into cardiac arrest. Meanwhile, bodyguard Rees-Jones says he’d heard a woman moan and the name “Dodi,” though he couldn’t say for sure that it was Diana. Still, other reports say she’d been unconscious the whole time, so any last words would only have been known to the other passengers before the tragedy.

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When did the driver get drunk?

The bottom line in the investigation of Princess Diana’s death is that the car crashed because the driver, Paul, was drunk and driving too fast. Seems strange that someone three times over France’s legal blood alcohol limit would be allowed behind the wheel, right? But witnesses and CCTV footage don’t show Paul acting drunk. Two bodyguards had seen him have a couple of drinks with dinner (Paul thought he was done with his security guard duties for the night until Al-Fayed requested he drive them away from the Ritz), but investigators say he would have needed at least four to six drinks on top of those to reach the limits shown in lab tests. Presumably, he’d drank those in the few hours between going off duty and being called back to drive, but it’s hard to tell how he’d hidden it from anyone who knew he was getting behind the wheel.

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Could different medical treatment have saved her?

Critics have called out the way the French medical team responded to Princess Diana’s death, claiming that they (intentionally or not) kept her from getting the life-saving treatment. The car crashed a bit before 12:30 a.m. on August 31, 1997, but she wasn’t put in the ambulance until 1:18 a.m. By the time she was stable enough to get going, it was 1:41 a.m., and the ambulance drove off at about 40 to 50 kilometres per hour, ignoring a closer hospital and going to another one farther away. Medical authorities have stood by the decisions—they couldn’t move her before she was stable, and even then, they had to be careful not to bump around too much; plus, the closer hospital wouldn’t have had the right equipment to deal with the injuries—but there’s no telling whether a different strategy could have had a better outcome.

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Why didn’t the royal family come to London immediately?

When Princess Diana’s death was announced, those grieving fled to London to pay their respects—those except for the royal family. They’d been in Scotland at the time, and they remained silent except for one brief message the morning of her death: “The Queen and Prince Philip are deeply shocked and distressed by this terrible news. Other members of the royal family are being informed of the Princess’s death.” The public, politicians, and the media called the family out, but they didn’t arrive for another four days, with the Queen’s speech a full five days after Diana’s death. Conspiracy theorists were quick to suggest that the “accident” had been a plot of the royal family all along, so of course, they wouldn’t grieve. But in truth, we’ll never know if they were too stunned with grief to face the public, or if they just wanted to take the time to nail down the best strategy before making any comments or appearances.

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Princess Diana in Argentina - 1995Tim Rooke/Shutterstock

Did Diana think she was pregnant?

Al-Fayed’s father has insisted that Princess Diana was expecting—and that the royal family caught wind and took extreme steps to end the pregnancy, wanting to keep an Egyptian Muslim out of the family. To be clear, medical reports said there was absolutely no evidence that Princess Diana was pregnant when she died. But the question still lingers in some people’s minds, especially since the forensic pathologist Dr. Richard Shepherd told the Daily Mail, “Pathologically there was no evidence that Princess Diana was pregnant, but some women say they know they’re pregnant from the moment of conception. Was she one of those?”

Next, check out the secrets about Princess Diana no one knew until after her death.

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest