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The 6 Biggest Unanswered Questions Surrounding Princess Diana's Death

Will we ever know what really happened?

At the time of her death, Princess Diana was—as her brother Charles Spencer said in his searing eulogy—"the most hunted person of the modern age." Everything the princess said and did—from the time she became engaged to Prince Charles in 1981 right up until the last moments of her life on August 31, 1997—was exhaustively covered by journalists and photographers around the world.

In the two decades since her death, there have been all kinds of investigations attempting to answer the lingering suspicions and "what ifs" surrounding the circumstances of the car crash that killed Diana, her then-boyfriend Dodi Fayed, and their driver, Henri Paul. Sadly, there are details surrounding that fateful night in Paris that still raise more questions than they do answers. Here are the biggest questions that remain unanswered about the night the People's Princess died.

What was Diana doing in Paris?

Princess Diana in St. Tropez
Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo

Earlier this year, a royal insider told me Diana never intended to go to Paris—or to be with Dodi at all. "She was not supposed to spend her summer with the Fayeds," said the source at the time. "And she most certainly had not planned on being in Paris with Dodi at the end of August. In fact, she was tiring of the whole episode and was eager to see [Prince] William and [Prince] Harry before they went off to school. It was Dodi who insisted they stop off in Paris for the night before heading back to London. She wanted to get home."

Diana had several offers to stay with friends that summer. In 2017, handbag designer Lana Marks told The Sun that Diana was supposed to go on holiday with her to Italy during the time the princess wound up in Paris, but Marks backed out of the trip at the last minute when her father died suddenly. When Marks canceled, the princess decided to stay with Dodi. "I constantly think, 'What if she'd been with me?' All that might not have happened," Marks told The Sun.

Another friend of the princess' told me, "The day before [Diana] died, she told me she didn't want to spend the night in Paris, but she somehow relented. I will never stop asking myself what made her do that."

Why didn't Diana and Dodi spend the night at the Ritz?

Ritz Hotel in Paris

When Diana and Dodi arrived at The Hôtel Ritz Paris the afternoon of August 3oth after visiting Villa Windsor, they were met by a swarm of photographers at the hotel's entrance. After canceling plans to go out to dinner, the couple tried to eat at the dining room in The Ritz but fled soon afterwards when the stares from fellow diners unnerved and annoyed them.

They retired to a luxurious suite where they could have easily spent the night away from the prying eyes of the public and long lenses of the paparazzi. Instead, they left the hotel at 12:20 a.m. to make the two-mile trip across town to Dodi's apartment near the Champs-Elysées.

In 2017, Diana's former butler Paul Burrell told Express he didn't understand why the couple decided to leave the hotel. "It was strange to me the princess would want to cross Paris at midnight," he said. "Knowing her, she'd rather be tucked up in bed early. If you look at footage [from the hotel's security camera] of her going down in the lift in The Ritz, that is not a woman who wanted to go out." He told the paper he was haunted by the question: "Why didn't she stick to her guns, like she usually did, and say, 'We're staying here tonight'?"

Why wasn't Diana wearing a seat belt?

Woman Putting on Seatbelt

Burrell has said he has nightmares of Diana screaming "slow down" before the car smashed into the 13th pillar in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel. According to published reports, nobody in the car was wearing seat belts, except Fayed's bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, who was the sole survivor of the crash. Burrell maintained to Express that the princess "always wore a seat belt… so why wasn't she that night?"

Diana's eldest sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, echoed Burrell's question in the BBC documentary Diana, 7 Days. "She was religious in putting on her seat belt," McCorquodale said. "Why didn't she put it on that night? I'll never know."

Why didn't Diana have her own bodyguards in Paris?

Closeup of bodyguard's chest with "Security" tag and tie

After Diana's divorce from Charles was finalized, she declined to have a Royal Protection officer as a bodyguard. But she was required to have bodyguards whenever she was with her sons because they're members of the royal family. A friend of Diana's told me, "She kept it for a little while after her divorce, but then she started to believe that the security officers were spying on her and reporting back to Charles. That's why she gave them up."

Her favorite officer was Colin Tebbutt, who served as Diana's driver for the two years before she died. In 2017, Tebbutt gave his first interview since the crash to Good Morning Britain where he said he was wracked by feelings of guilt for not being with the princess in Paris. "Yes, you always do [feel responsible]," he said. "That's not good to have in the mind."

Was the driver of the white Fiat responsible? 

White fiat in alleyway

For their book Who Killed Lady Di?, French reporters Pascal Rostain, Bruno Mouron, and Jean-Michel Caradec'h investigated the circumstances surrounding the crash—including whatever happened to the mysterious white Fiat.

One witness who spoke to the authors said a white Fiat Uno was spotted in the tunnel at the time of the crash, but it sped off and was not officially identified. But there was physical evidence that the Fiat did collide with Diana and Dodi's Mercedes. It was discovered that the Mercedes swerved to avoid hitting the Fiat, damaging its left tail light and scratching the car's paint.

Traces of white paint prompted investigators to search for the owner from a list of more than 5,000 white Fiat Unos registered in the surrounding areas near Paris. According to Tina Brown, author of The Diana Chronicles, nine years after the crash, French police finally found the owner of the car: Le Van Thanh, a Vietnamese plumber who also worked as a night watchman. The police interviewed him and discovered he had repainted the car red because the immigrant was frightened by the prospect of getting charged with a crime for not stopping at the scene of the accident. Authorities said he helped dispel any rumors of a conspiracy and was never charged in connection with the crash, but this important piece of the puzzle has always been downplayed, keeping questions about the Fiat's role in the crash alive.

Could Diana have been saved?

young prince harry at his mother diana's funeral, prince harry father

This is perhaps the most heartbreaking question of all. According to several published reports after the crash at 12:23 a.m. on August 31st, Diana was still alive when rescuers first responded to the accident. Before a medical team arrived, photographer Romuald Rat was among the first on the scene. According to Brown, Rat took some shots of the crash then approached the car to see if anyone was alive. Rat discovered Fayed and Paul were dead, while Diana was still breathing and Rees-Jones was so badly injured, his face looked almost flat.

Less than a minute after the crash, Dr. Frederic Mailliez, who was on his way home after attending a friend's birthday party, saw the crash, called emergency services and then attended to the princess, who he said was conscious and moaning in pain. Minutes later, emergency workers arrived and gave Diana oxygen and wrapped her in a blanket. Diana reportedly asked, "Oh my God, what's happened?"

In The Diana Chronicles, Brown notes that in France, it is believed there is a better chance of recovery if a patient is stabilized at the scene. French ambulances were reportedly outfitted with more advanced cardiac care devices than what was used in the United States at the time. The doctors worked on stabilizing Diana's breathing at the crash site and finally put her on a stretcher at 1 a.m. Shortly afterwards, her heart stopped and she was put on a respirator.

The trip to Pitie-Salpetriere hospital was just four miles away, but the ambulance took 40 minutes to get there, passing another hospital, the Hotel-Dieu, along the way. Once at the hospital, ER doctors attempted to restart Diana's heart, but she was pronounced dead at 4 a.m. This time, concluded Brown, "Diana's broken heart would never mend." And for more facts about the People's Princess that've been muddled by hearsay, Here's the Truth Behind 17 Myths About Princess Diana.

Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.

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