She had been on a yacht that morning, had flown to Paris on a private plane midday and dined at the Ritz that evening.
But as the hours passed on Aug. 30, 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, the most famous woman in the world, had only hours left to live.
That August marked one year since Diana, 36, had been divorced from Prince Charles, and according to those who knew her, she talked with excitement about embarking on the next chapter of her life.
In her life that summer was a new man, Dodi Al-Fayed.
She had met Al-Fayed a month earlier when his father, billionaire businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed, asked Diana to join his family for a vacation in Saint Tropez.
Diana and her two sons, William and Harry, met up with Al-Fayed and his son for the vacation. Now, a month later, she and Dodi were ending a summer vacation that only the two had shared.
“They were in a good mood,” Al-Fayed’s butler remembered of the day the couple left for Paris. “They were always laughing, holding hands.”
Here’s a timeline of what happened when they arrived:
Aug. 30, 1997
11:30 a.m. (local time): The couple left the yacht moored in Sardinia and made their way to the airport, where Al-Fayed’s plane was waiting.
1:50 p.m.: The plane took off for France.
3:20 p.m.: The couple arrived at the airport at Le Bourget. As they got off the plane, a dozen photographers were waiting. The couple got into a car with a bodyguard and Dodi’s regular driver, Philippe Dourneau.
Henri Paul, who was the deputy head of security for the Ritz Hotel in Paris, drove a second car with others from the couple’s party.
The couple headed to the Villa Windsor, the former home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. After a brief tour, the couple then left for the Hotel Ritz Paris, the hotel owned by Mohamed Al-Fayed.
The photographers followed them.
The couple entered the rear of the building and went up to the Imperial Suite. After arriving at the Ritz and settling in, Diana called her two sons. Princes William and Harry were vacationing at Balmoral Castle in Scotland with their father.
In an interview on the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death, William and Harry both say they remember the call and regret they rushed their mother off the phone so they could continue what they had been doing when she called.
Diana made a second call to her medium, Rita Rogers.
Between 5:40 and 6:30 p.m.: After resting in the hotel room for a while, Diana left for a hair appointment and Al-Fayed went to a jeweler near the hotel where, his family says, he went to pick up an engagement ring.
At some point in the afternoon, Diana called journalist Richard Kay, a friend who covered the royal family for the Daily Mail.
According to Kay, Diana told him a change was coming. Kay said the princess told him she had decided to “radically change her life.”
“She was going to complete her obligations to her charities,” Kay wrote some time after Diana’s death, “and then, around November, would completely withdraw from her formal public life.”
Al-Fayed had wanted to propose that night, according to his family. According to a Vanity Fair article, Diana told a friend the ring she expected to receive from Al-Fayed would be “going firmly on my right hand,” not on the left for an engagement.
Around 7 p.m.: Diana and Al-Fayed left the Ritz through the rear entrance and were driven to his apartment, which was near the Arc de Triomphe. They planned to stay at the apartment for a while, then go to dinner at Benoit Paris. They had no plan to return to the Ritz that evening.
After the couple were driven to Al-Fayed’s apartment, Henri Paul went off duty. He went to a bar, alone, to have some drinks.
8:51 p.m.: The couple left the apartment and were planning to go to Benoit Paris, but photographers were following them. According to Lord John Stevens, who led the British investigation into the princess’ death, “Because of the attention of the paparazzi during the journey, Dodi Al-Fayed instructed his chauffeur to drive instead to the Ritz Hotel.”
9:50 p.m.: The couple entered the front of the hotel and went to L’Espadon, one of the hotel’s restaurants, according to Christopher Andersen’s book, “The Day Diana Died.”
Anderson reported that Diana ordered Dover sole, vegetable tempura, and a mushroom and asparagus omelet, but as the meal came, Al-Fayed grew suspicious that photographers might be posing as restaurant patrons, Anderson writes. He asked that the food be delivered to the Imperial Suite.
10:08 p.m.: Paul was called back to the hotel by Francois Tendil, the hotel’s night security manager. Once at the hotel, he ordered a drink in the bar. It was later learned that in addition to the alcohol, he had taken two prescription drugs — one for depression and one for alcoholism.
He left the bar and walked into a customer, a barkeep later said.
10.20 p.m.: Al-Fayed spoke to Tendil. It was believed that Al-Fayed was considering a plan to sneak out of the hotel and head back to his apartment. The manager met with Paul and two other Ritz chauffeurs.
10.30 p.m.: After meeting with the night manager, Paul went outside in front of the hotel, and spoke to paparazzi on at least three occasions. One person who heard Paul talking to the photographers said he was taunting them.
He allegedly told them that “Diana will be coming out (of the front door) in 10 minutes!”
10:30 p.m.-midnight: After dining in their suite at the Ritz, the princess and Al-Fayed decided they would leave the hotel and head back to Al-Fayed’s apartment.
Hotel surveillance footage captured the two smiling in an elevator as they headed down to the rear of the hotel.
Aug. 31, 1997
12:20 a.m.: With bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones in the front seat and Paul behind the wheel, the couple got into the back seat of the black Mercedes and left the hotel.
Paul called out to the photographers, “Don’t try to follow, you will never catch us!”
According to later investigations, Al-Fayed had hatched a plan to sneak out of the back of the hotel while a decoy car left the front of the Ritz. However, photographers caught on and began to chase after the car as Paul sped through Paris streets until he came up on the Pont de l’Alma tunnel.
12:23 a.m.: The Mercedes, which was going at 85 mph, clipped a white Fiat Uno at the entrance to the tunnel, and then careened into the 13th pillar of the tunnel. The impact, which some outside the tunnel said sounded like an explosion, killed Paul and Al-Fayed instantly. Rees-Jones, who only moments before had put on his seat belt, was seriously injured, as was Diana who was not wearing a seat belt.
Photographer Romauld Rat arrived within seconds to be the first on the scene. He snapped photos.
Following the accident, Dr. Frédéric Maillez, who was driving on the opposite side of the tunnel, saw the wrecked car and attempted to help those inside.
According to the Associated Press, he found Paul and Al-Fayed dead, Rees-Jones severely injured and yelling, and Diana, on her knees facing the seat she had been sitting in.
He did not recognize her.
Maillez said he administered what aid he could. The princess asked what had happened, then, after complaining of pain from her injuries, lowered her head and said nothing else.
Emergency workers used an electric chainsaw to get Diana out of the wreckage.
Approximately 1:20 a.m.: French emergency services policies call for trying to stabilize a patient before transporting them to the hospital. After Diana is extracted from the wreckage, she went into cardiac arrest.
After 18 minutes of CPR, Diana’s heartbeat had become more regular, so she was placed inside an ambulance and onto a respirator. The ambulance headed toward a hospital 4 miles away.
A block away from the hospital entrance, Diana’s blood pressure dropped dramatically. The ambulance stopped and doctors gave her dopamine.
2:01 a.m.: Nearly two hours after the accident, Diana reached Pitié-Salpétrière Hospital and was rushed immediately into surgery.
2:30 a.m.: Surgeons opened Diana’s chest to try to repair the damage and discovered her heart had been displaced from the left side of her chest to the right due to the force of the accident. The force of the crash also caused a small tear in the upper left pulmonary vein.
Diana also had a dislocated arm, damaged ribs, a cut on her thigh and a cut on her head.
4 a.m.: Despite hours of surgery, Diana, Princess of Wales was pronounced dead.
Sources: The BBC, The Associated Press, The Operation Paget inquiry report, NZHerald.com, The Guardian
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