Doctor Who First Helped Diana in Crash: I Didn't Recognize Her

As 25th anniversary approaches, Frederic Mailliez speaks about the night of the fatal 1997 accident
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 29, 2022 10:50 AM CDT
As 25th Anniversary Nears, Doc Who Found Diana Speaks
Diana, Princess of Wales, is seen in St-Tropez, France, on July 20, 1997. It has been nearly 25 years since Princess Diana died in a high-speed car crash in Paris.   (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau, File)

The woman was crumpled on the floor of a mangled Mercedes, unconscious and struggling to breathe. The French doctor had no idea who she was and focused on trying to save her. Twenty-five years later, Frederic Mailliez is still marked by what happened in the Alma Tunnel in Paris on Aug. 31, 1997—and the realization that he was one of the last people to see Princess Diana alive. "I realize my name will always be attached to this tragic night," Mailliez, who was on his way home from a party when he came across the car crash, tells the AP. "I feel a little bit responsible for her last moments." As Britain and Diana's admirers worldwide prepare to mark a quarter century since her death, Mailliez recounts the aftermath of the crash.

  • What he saw: That night, Mailliez was driving into the tunnel when he spotted a smoking Mercedes nearly split in two. "I walked toward the wreckage. I opened the door, and I looked inside," he says. "Four people, two of them were apparently dead, no reaction, no breathing, and the two others, on the right side, were living but in severe condition. The front passenger was screaming, he was breathing. He could wait a few minutes. And the female passenger, the young lady, was on her knees on the floor of the Mercedes, she had her head down. She had difficulty [breathing]. She needed quick assistance."
  • What he did next: Mailliez ran to his car to call emergency services and grab a respiratory bag. "She was unconscious," he says of Diana. "Thanks to my respiratory bag ... she regained a little bit more energy, but she couldn't say anything." Firefighters quickly came, and Diana was taken to a Paris hospital, where she died a few hours later. Her companion, Dodi Fayed, and the driver also died.
  • When he found out who the woman in the car was: The doctor would later find out the news—along with the rest of the world—that the woman he'd treated was Diana. "I know it's surprising, but I didn't recognize Princess Diana," he says. "I was in the car on the rear seat giving assistance. I realized she was very beautiful, but my attention was so focused on what I had to do to save her life, I didn't have time to think, 'Who was this woman?'" He adds that "someone behind me told me the victims spoke English, so I began to speak English, saying I was a doctor and [I'd] called the ambulance. I tried to comfort her."

  • The paparazzi: As he worked, he noticed the flash of camera bulbs from paparazzi gathered to document the scene. A British inquest found that Diana's chauffeur, Henri Paul, was drunk and driving at a high speed to elude pursuing photographers. Mailliez says he had "no reproach" toward the photographers' actions after the crash. "They didn't hamper me having access to the victims. ... I didn't ask them for help, but they didn't interfere with my job," he notes.
  • The aftermath: "It was a massive shock to learn that she was Princess Diana, and that she died," Mailliez says. Then self-doubt set in. “Did I do everything I could to save her? Did I do [my job] correctly?" he says he asked himself. "I checked with my medical professors and I checked with police investigators," and they agreed he did all he could, he says. The anniversary is stirring up those memories again, but they also come back "each time I drive through the Alma Tunnel," he notes.

More here.

(More Princess Diana stories.)

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