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Princess Diana, Boyfriend Are Killed in Paris

By Anne Swardson and Charles Trueheart
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, August 31, 1997; Page A01

PARIS, Aug. 31 (Sunday) Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed along with her boyfriend Dodi Fayed in an automobile crash along the Seine River in the heart of Paris as her car sped to evade paparazzi photographers pursuing the celebrity couple, French officials said.

Diana, 36, often described as the most famous woman in the world, suffered grave head injuries in the crash and succumbed around 4 a.m. Paris time (10 p.m. EDT), according to officials at the hospital where she was taken. It was a sudden and tragic ending to a life that was part fairy tale and part soap opera and that had captivated millions for nearly two decades.

Diana's life ended the same way she spent nearly all of her adulthood: pursued by aggressive paparazzi, in this case on speeding motorcycles chasing a car carrying her and Fayed away from a dinner at the Hotel Ritz. Police arrested five photographers and launched a criminal investigation. France Info radio said at least some of the photographers took pictures before help arrived -- and that one of the photographers was beaten at the scene by horrified witnesses.

Diana's death came one year and two days after her divorce from Charles, Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne. Married in 1981 in what was billed as a storybook wedding, the beautiful princess gave birth to two sons and cheered the world's poor and downtrodden with frequent travels, but could not save her marriage. Fayed, who died with her at age 42, was her first known love after her divorce.

The announcement of her death was made by French Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement at the Pitie Salpetriere. Her doctors, Bruno Riou and Alain Pavie, told reporters that they had worked for two hours to revive Diana.

"She was a woman who was modern, courageous and sensitive to human distress," Chevenement said. "Her death will be felt with great pain in our country."

"I am utterly devastated," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a statement in London. "The whole of our country, all of us, will be in a state of shock and mourning." Blair called Diana a "wonderful, warm and compassion person" who will be "mourned as a friend" by everyone in Britain.

President Clinton was told of the princess's death shortly before midnight while attending a dinner party in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., where the first family is vacationing. Clinton said through White House spokesman Joe Lockhart: "Hillary and I knew Princess Diana and we were very fond of her. We are profoundly saddened by this tragic event. Our thoughts and prayers tonight are with her family, friends, and especially her children." Diana was at the White House earlier this summer to meet with Hillary Clinton about a global campaign to ban land mines, a favored issue of the princess.

Chevenement said the criminal unit of the Paris police force was questioning seven witnesses as part of an investigation, although he did not say whether the witnesses were photographers. He declined to say whether the French government held the photographers responsible.

Chevenement confirmed earlier police reports that the Mercedes in which Diana and Fayed were trying to evade photographers "was traveling at a great rate of speed." Fayed and the chauffeur of the car died immediately, Chevenement said. A bodyguard was injured in the crash and hospitalized. Diana sustained a major blow to her left lung, severe head injuries and wounds to her thigh. The specific cause of death was cardiac arrest, her doctors said.

At the hospital, British Ambassador Michael Jay told reporters that Queen Elizabeth II, Charles and Blair all had been informed. Buckingham Palace said Diana's sons, William and Harry, also had been told of their mother's death.

Paris police said the crash occurred shortly before 1 a.m. Paris time in the westbound lanes of a four-lane, below-ground tunnel under the Place de l'Alma Bridge not far from the Eiffel Tower, though on the other side of the river. The tunnel is one of the few high-speed highways in Paris.

About 40 police vehicles remained at the scene of the accident, where the Mercedes lay facing the opposite direction from traffic. It appeared to have hit a concrete dividing wall. When it was removed, it was clear the car was virtually crushed. The grille was pushed back two-thirds of the way toward the dashboard, and the roof was smashed down to the level of the seats in front. The windshield was smashed, and the front wheels also were pushed back.

Two American witnesses, Joanna Luz and Tom Richardson, told CNN television news they heard a noise "like an explosion" as they were walking along the Seine River. They ran into the tunnel to offer assistance when they saw someone jump out from the car, which had been traveling at about 60 mph. Within five seconds, they said, a photographer arrived. Both front air bags were deployed. The police took from five to seven minutes to arrive and the ambulance 15 minutes, they said.

They and witness Mike Walker told CNN that the car's driver, apparently unconscious, leaned on the horn for at least two minutes. Walker said he saw the person in the front passenger's seat slumped over a deployed air bag.

Diana and Fayed, who have been carrying on a high-profile romance in recent weeks, arrived in Paris Saturday. They had been vacationing on the Mediterranean, and Diana had been scheduled to return to London today to be reunited with her children, vacationing in Scotland with their father.

Colm Pierce, a photographer for the British newspaper the Daily Mirror, said at the accident scene that the couple had eaten dinner at the Hotel Ritz in the Place Vendome in central Paris. They left through a back entrance to avoid the 30 or so photographers waiting for them in front, and abandoned their own car in favor of the Mercedes, apparently owned by the hotel. The driver also may have been an employee of the hotel, reportedly owned by Fayed's father. The hotel had no comment.

Divorced from Charles, last year, Diana some months ago began a serious relationship with Fayed, wealthy son of Mohamed Fayed, owner of Harrods department store and other assets around the world. She was widely photographed vacationing with him on his father's yacht, and allowed her sons to accompany her on vacation with him.

"We relaxed . . . we had a good time," Fayed said after returning from one outing with Diana. "We are very good friends."

They were followed everywhere they went by photographers. Diana made no secret of her dislike of aggressive press pursuit. In an interview last week with the Paris-based Le Monde newspaper, Diana was quoted as saying the pressure was so intense that "any sane person would have left [England] long ago. But I cannot, I have my sons."

The senior Fayed also owns a professional soccer team, a castle in Scotland and the former residence in Paris of Edward, Duke of Windsor, and his wife, the former Wallis Simpson. Edward, the late duke, was Charles's great-uncle.

Egyptian-born, Mohamed Fayed is credited with helping bring down the former Conservative government with allegations that senior Conservatives took money from him to ask questions in Parliament. He has repeatedly been denied the British citizenship he has sought for decades.

His late son attended the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. Like Diana, Dodi Fayed was divorced.

Correspondent Dan Balz in Edinburgh, Scotland, and staff writer John F. Harris in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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