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Princess Diana: The Last Journey

Each week we are going to focus on an individual and their case that made headlines around the world. Starting with the demise of Princess Diana of Wales.

Diana is the mother to the future King, William and his brother Harry. She gained much media attention in her short life for her activism and her glamour. She was an international icon.

On the evening of the 31st of August 1997, Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed left the ritz hotel in a Mercedes driven by French driver Henry Paul and accompanied by Diana’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones. Diana’s trip to Paris was constantly hounded by the press and paparazzi. A decoy vehicle was used to try and steer the attention away from the car Diana was travelling in but to no avail. The car Diana was travelling in exceeded 60 miles an hour to try and get the following paparazzi on motorcycles off their tail. At 12:19 am, the car they were travelling in crashed into the 13th pillar of the Pont d’Alma bridge, just two miles from their intended destination. Diana alongside Dodi and the driver died due to injuries sustained in the crash. But what exactly happened?

Diana and Dodi were in the back seats of the Mercedes and were not wearing seatbelts, and neither was the driver. The driver hit the steering wheel and his injuries were worsened by Dodi’s body propelling forward and still travelling at over 60mph. The driver acted as Dodi’s airbag, both men died instantly. Diana was a bit luckier. Her bodyguard, Rees-Jones sat in the front passenger seat and was wearing a seatbelt. Bodyguards don’t usually wear seatbelts as they restrict movement but perhaps Rees-Jones was alarmed by Paul’s precarious driving this night.

As Diana’s body was pushed forward from the impact, Rees-Jones and his seatbelt absorbed some of the force and lessened the impact. She suffered from a broken arm and what was thought to be a minor chest injury. Due to the impact, Rees-Jones was taken in the first ambulance due to having sustained what appeared to be more serious injuries, leaving Diana waiting to be treated. According to the ambulance crew, Diana seemed stable as it was unknown that a vein in her lungs was torn.

This injury caused very slow internal bleeding and a difficult injury to find. Once in the ambulance, she started to lose consciousness. She then suffered a cardiac arrest and attempts were made to resuscitate her. She was immediately taken into theatre where the torn vein was finally identified. Attempts were made to repair the vein, but it was too late. Diana’s death is due to a tear in the pulmonary vein. This injury is very rare. If she had perhaps hit the front passenger seat differently or if the car travelled at a slower pace, she might have survived this ordeal. If she had been wearing a seatbelt the only injury she might have sustained would have been bruising and fractured ribs from the seatbelt.

In the world of forensic pathology, a tear to the pulmonary vein is a very infrequent cause of death. Unfortunately, it just so happened to a beloved Princess.


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