PARIS (AP) — The woman was crumpled on the floor of a crushed Mercedes, unconscious and struggling to breathe. The French doctor had no idea who she was and just focused on trying to save her.
Twenty-five years later, Dr Frederic Mailliez is still marked by what happened in the Alma Tunnel in Paris on August 31, 1997 — and the realization that he was one of the last people to see Princess Diana alive.
“I realize that my name will always be associated with this tragic night,” Mailliez, who was returning home from a party when he encountered the crash, told The Associated Press. “I feel a little responsible for her last moments.”
As Britain and Diana fans around the world mark a quarter of a century since her death, Mailliez recounted the aftermath of the accident.
That night, Mailliez was driving into the tunnel when he spotted a smoking Mercedes almost split in two.
“I walked towards the wreckage. I opened the door and looked in,” he said.
What he saw: “Four people, two of them were obviously dead, unresponsive, not breathing and the other two, on the right side, were alive but in serious condition. The passenger was screaming, breathing. He could wait a few minutes. And the female passenger, the young lady, was kneeling on the floor of the Mercedes, her head down. He was having trouble breathing. He needed help fast.”
He ran to his car to call emergency services and grab a breathing bag.
“She was unconscious,” he said. “Thanks to my breathing bag (…) he regained a little more energy, but he couldn’t say anything.”
The doctor would later learn the news—along with the rest of the world—that the woman he was treating was Diana, Britain’s national treasure adored by millions.
“I know it’s amazing, but I didn’t recognize Princess Diana,” he said. “I was in the car in the back seat helping. I realized she was very beautiful, but my attention was so focused on what I had to do to save her life that I didn’t have time to think about who this woman was.”
“Someone behind me told me the victims spoke English, so I started speaking English, saying I was a doctor and called the ambulance,” he said. “I tried to comfort her.”
As he worked, he noticed the flash of camera lights, the paparazzi who had gathered to record the scene. A British inquest found Diana’s chauffeur, Henry Paul, was drunk and speeding to avoid photographers.
Mailliez said he had “no censure” for the photographers’ actions after the crash. “I was not prevented from accessing the victims. … I didn’t ask them for help, but they didn’t interfere with my work.”
Firefighters arrived quickly and Diana was taken to a Paris hospital, where she died a few hours later. Her partner Dodi Fayed and the driver also died.
“It was a huge shock to learn that it was Princess Diana and that she had died,” Mailliez said. Then the self-doubt started. “Did I do everything I could to save her? Did I do my job right?’ he asked himself. “I checked with my medical professors and I checked with police investigators,” he said, and they agreed he did everything he could.
The anniversary reawakens those memories, but they also come back “every time I drive through the Alma Tunnel,” he said.
As Mailliez spoke, standing at the top of the tunnel, cars rushed in and out of the pillar where she fell, now bearing a stenciled design of Diana’s face.
The Flame of Liberty monument nearby has become a monument that attracts Diana fans of all generations and nationalities. She has become a timeless figure of emancipation and fashion icon even for those born after her death.
Irinia Ouahvi, a 16-year-old Parisian visiting the flame, said she knew Diana through TikTok videos and through her mother.
“Even in her style she was a feminist. He defied royal etiquette by wearing cycling shorts and casual pants,” Ouahvi said.
Francine Rose, a 16-year-old Dutch girl who stopped at Diana’s monument while cycling in Paris, discovered her story thanks to “Spencer,” a recent movie starring Kristen Stewart.
“She’s an inspiration because she was growing up in the strict household, the royal family, and she just wanted to be free,” Rose said.
This story corrects the name of the movie starring Kristen Stewart to “Spencer”.
Nicolas Garriga and Jeffrey Schaeffer contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the 25th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death at https://apnews.com/hub/princess-diana