WHEN you heard that Princess Diana had died in a horrible car crash in Paris in 1997, you were no doubt shocked and saddened, but a few thousand Benz employees must have woken that morning and thought, “Oh no, not in a Mercedes”.
For the sharp public relations hack or company exec, it wouldn’t have taken many seconds to realise that this was not going to be a great advertisement for the safety systems and structural integrity of Benz cars, and an S-Class no less.
After the flurry of hatred for the media in general, sober analysis of the facts revealed that no production car would have survived the 100km/h impact with its safety cell, and its occupants, intact.
We also discovered that the driver, Henri Paul, was drunk, and that Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed, inexplicably, weren’t wearing seatbelts. And during a high-speed car chase through the streets of Paris.
Not that that stopped the inevitable purveyors of conspiracy theories, most notably Dodi’s father, Ritz Hotel owner Mohamed al-Fayed, who has maintained it was a plot by the British Royal Family to do away with Diana and his son.
The impact with a column in the Pont de l'Alma road tunnel shoved the radiator into the front seat. Somehow the Princess survived the initial crash, only to die later in hospital.
The badly battered remains of the car were held in a police depot in London until 2008, when the official inquest into Diana’s death was finished, and they were then melted down to make sure that none of the pieces fell into the hands of mawkish souvenir hunters.
Extensive forensic examinations proved that the car was in perfect working order before the crash. So if there was nothing wrong with the seatbelts, why wouldn’t you use them?
Dodi Fayed’s bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones somehow survived the massive impact.
His face was reconstructed by surgeons, but still bears some scars from the crash.
He documented the incident in The Bodyguard’s Story, published in 2000.