“My God, what happened?” These were reportedly Princess Diana’s last words. She directed them to French firefighter Javier Gourmelon, one of the first people to arrive at the scene of the terrible accident in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris on August 31, 1997.
Just moments after saying these five words, she went into cardiac arrest and passed away.
Firefighter Gourmelon had no idea who she was. He did not believe that the “blonde” in the back of the crushed Mercedes-Benz sedan was seriously injured because her eyes were open and she was conscious. Before they took her out of the car, he held her hand and comforted her, telling her to stay calm. After the first signs of cardiac arrest, the fireman did his best to revive the beautiful princess.
– I massaged her heart and a few seconds later she started breathing again. It was a relief, of course, because, as a person who works in the emergency service, you want to save lives and that’s what I thought I did – he previously told The Sun.
The fireman admitted that only when the life-threatening woman was placed in the ambulance, one of the paramedics told him that it was Princess Diana.
– To be honest, I thought he would survive. As far as I knew, by the time she was in the ambulance, she was alive and I expected her to survive. But later I found out that she died in the hospital. It was very disturbing. I know now that there were serious internal injuries, but the whole episode is still fresh in my mind. I will always remember that night – revealed Gourmelon.
Diana had a concussion, a broken arm, a cut on her thigh and severe chest injuries. After a two-hour operation in which they tried to save her, the doctors failed to “make” her heart beat properly and she no longer regained consciousness. She died of internal bleeding on August 31, 1997 at 4:53 a.m. local time at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris.
In addition to the then 36-year-old princess, her companion, Dodi Al-Fayed’s boyfriend at the time, and Mercedes driver Henry Paul also died in a serious traffic accident. The only surviving witness to this tragedy is Diana’s bodyguard Trevor Rhys-Jones, who remembers nothing.
After a long time, British photographers caught him a few days ago in front of a store in the family shopping. The scars on his face still painfully remind him of that horrible night in Paris.
Although he was babysitting the princess that night, Rhys-Jones was working for the Al-Fayed family. Some of Diana’s biographers speculate that the large private security team was one of the things Diana enjoyed on holiday with the Al-Fayeds in the south of France.
However, it was clear from the beginning that the stay in Paris would not be at all relaxing because the princess and Dodi were followed by a group of 30 paparazzi.
On August 30, Diana and Dodi had dinner in the Imperial Suite at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. They left the hotel just before midnight and headed to Fayed’s apartment.
Henry Paul, the then deputy head of security at the Ritz Hotel, played a big role in everything, who came up with the idea that the two cars in which Al-Fayed’s entourage was traveling that day should go in front of the hotel at the same time in order to fool the paparazzi. He then suggested that he personally drive the princess and Dodi in one of the hotel’s limousines that would leave later, from the back of the hotel.
– I was not happy with this idea because it meant that Dodi would separate the security officers, but I agreed with it – bodyguard Rhys-Jones later said at the inquest into the princess’s death.
They ended up going with the plan devised by Paul, but the paparazzi were waiting for them and gave chase as soon as Diana and Al-Fayed drove away in a Mercedes-Benz S-280 limousine.
The only survivor
The princess and Dodi sat in the back seat, Henry Paul drove the Mercedes, and bodyguard Trevor Rhys-Jones was in the passenger seat.
– At first I was told that Dodi and Diana would travel without security, but I said that it was out of the question and that I would travel with them in the vehicle – said the bodyguard.
After a terrifying paparazzi chase, everything came to an abrupt halt when the Mercedes hit the thirteenth pillar of the Pont de l’Alma tunnel at a speed of 196 km/h.
In the accident that killed all his companions, Trevor Rhys-Jones suffered serious head and chest injuries, was in a coma for 10 days and broke every bone in his face. His life was saved by an airbag.
His face was completely crushed and flattened. Surgeons had to use old photos to reconstruct his face, and in doing so they used 150 pieces of titanium.
Rhys-Jones, then 29, spent a month in the hospital and was unable to speak at first. He suffered from profound amnesia and could only communicate by whispering and writing.
Later, when pressed for details in the inquest, he said the last thing he remembered that night was getting into the car at the Ritz. This meant that he was “missing” four minutes from his memory.
Although Dodi’s father Mohammed Al-Fayed, the controversial owner of the luxury London department store Harrods, claimed that Diana and his son were killed by agents of the British state, this theory was officially rejected only in 2008. An inquest led by former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens concluded that Diana and Dodi were killed due to “grossly careless driving by escort vehicles (ob. a. paparazzi) and Mercedes driver Henry Paul”. Namely, 41-year-old Paul had 1.7 g/l of alcohol in his blood that fateful evening, which is three times more than the legal limit in France.
– I’m the only person who can tell people the truth, and I can’t remember – he said in an interview three years after the accident, talking about the crazy conspiracy theories according to which he is the main actor in the cover-up of the British security service’s plot to kill Diana.
He also recalled the princess calling out Dodi’s name in a panic, and that a white Fiat Uno was chasing them. He also pointed out that the driver of the fatal car, Henry Paul, was not visibly drunk.
– I just want to know what happened – he said in an interview shortly before his book “The Story of a Bodyguard” was published in 2000.
According to the claims of some investigators and authors, the white Fiat Uno was driven by a 22-year-old French-born bodybuilder Le Van Tan, whose family comes from Vietnam, who allegedly worked as a security guard at a company at the time. His car is believed to have collided with the princess’s Mercedes, which at high speed contributed to Paul losing control of the vehicle which then crashed into a pole. According to eyewitnesses, Van Tan fled the scene of the accident and quickly repainted his white Fiat at home in red. However, French authorities found that there was no evidence to support that he was involved in the Alma Tunnel collision, and the investigation was closed in 2018. Van Tan denied involvement in the accident and refused to cooperate with the investigation.
However, for Rhys-Jones’ bodyguard, the white Fiat Uno is still an enigma today because his memory has not returned.
Just six months after the accident, he returned to work for Mohamed Al-Fayed, but soon quit to “move on with life”.
– I understand that Trevor must do everything possible in order to fully recover and finally leave behind the tragic events of last August – commented the Egyptian tycoon at the time.
Rhys-Jones stressed that he felt no anger towards al-Fayed despite his promotion of conspiracy theories about the crash. He returned to his home county of Shropshire and worked for a time in a local sports shop.
A simple accident
After working briefly as a security guard for the United Nations, he made his fortune working for Halliburton, the Texas oil giant. He moved to America and was the head of security for Iraq during the worst years of the Iraq war.
He returned to Shropshire five years ago when he started working in the position he still holds. Namely, he works as the global head of security at AstraZeneca, the company behind the Oxford vaccine against covid.
Although an inquest found he was not at fault for the deaths of Diana and Dodi, he said he still felt responsible because it happened “on his shift”.
– I consider it an accident that could have been avoided because Henry Paul made a mistake when he got behind the wheel of the car even though he knew he had been drinking. He didn’t tell any of us that he wasn’t fit to drive. That was a mistake. I accepted the findings of the investigation. It was a simple drunk driving accident caused by speed. And that’s what happened – he said in an interview with the Irish Times in 2000.
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