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A tragedy mourned the world over, the death of Princess Diana in 1997 was truly shocking. For years, the high-speed car crash that killed the British celebrity, her partner Dodi Fayed, and driver Henri Paul was the subject of intense speculation and investigation. And though it seems clear now what transpired that fateful night, what happened to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class involved in the accident?

The tragic death of Princess Diana

Wreckage of the Mercedes-Benz car in which Princess Diana died in 1997
Wreckage of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class in which Princess Diana died in 1997 | Pierre Boussel/AFP via Getty Images

A beloved member of the British Royal Family and the mother of Prince William and Prince Harry, Diana, Princess of Wales, was the first wife of Prince Charles. In her relatively short life, she became a global icon for her charity work and fashion sense. And though Diana was broadly admired, her high profile attracted considerable public scrutiny. After a rocky marriage, she and Charles divorced in 1995, with Diana retaining her royal title.

By 1997, she was dating Dodi Fayed, an Egyptian film producer. The night of August 31, the couple disembarked a private jet and planned to dine at the Ritz in Paris. But patrons and the press wouldn’t leave them alone, so they left, intending to head back to Fayed’s apartment. To avoid the paparazzi, Fayed dispatched a decoy vehicle from the front entrance while the couple left through the back.

Shortly after midnight, their Mercedes-Benz S-Class crashed into the righthand wall of the Pont de l’Alma tunnel entrance. Traveling over 60 mph, the S-280 limousine swerved into a pillar and then spun. The rear of the car smashed into one of the tunnel’s walls before crashing to a halt. They were only two miles from the Ritz.

According to History, Fayed and the driver were pronounced dead at the scene. Princess Diana and her bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones were rushed to the hospital. Rees-Jones survived. Diana did not. She was 36.

The accident investigation and condition of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Princess Diana’s untimely death commanded worldwide attention. Politicians, the media, and pundits honed in on the nature of the paparazzi’s possible role in the accident. However, after independent nine-year investigations, French and British authorities determined Diana’s death stemmed from negligent driving from Paul — who had been drinking — and pursuing paparazzi vehicles.

To help provide closure to Diana’s family and mourners, British authorities promised to destroy the Mercedes-Benz S-Class that had carried her that fateful night. But unbeknownst to the public, the car was delivered to London for further investigation. British authorities agreed to return the limo to France after their probe.

However, they tried to block the car’s return to France following their investigation. After 17 months of attempts, the French prevailed and received the Mercedes-Benz. Its original owner had also mounted legal challenges to have the vehicle returned. But he too was unaware it had made its way back to France.

In 2017, reporters from the British tabloid The Sun found the car’s wreckage in an impound lot in Bonneuil-sur-Marne, 10 miles outside Paris. The right front door and right rear had been destroyed. However, the rest of the limo remains the same as it was after the crash.

The public’s reaction to the car’s discovery

Unsurprisingly, the public was not happy to learn the Mercedes-Benz limo was not destroyed. Many find it an insult to Princess Diana’s memory and likely painful for her surviving family members. The car’s owner, Jean-François Musa, hasn’t helped matters. As the story broke of the vehicle’s discovery, Musa repeated claims he’d made shortly after her death: He’d like to see the car in a museum.

But many find this idea distasteful as well. In an interview with The Mirror, one of Diana’s former bodyguards, Ken Wharfe, remarked, “There seems to be no thought for her family who would find this incredibly upsetting that sick ghouls would be visiting this disturbing piece of history.”

Since the story broke in The Sun, there have been no public updates regarding the car’s status. Presumably, British authorities are negotiating with France to have the vehicle destroyed or returned to London to destroy it themselves. These negotiations may be complicated by Musa’s legal efforts to reclaim the Mercedes-Benz.

However, no matter the car’s current status, we likely haven’t heard the last of this development given Diana’s legions of admirers and the royal family’s power.


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