The Diana File

THE SIX-INCH-THICK DOSSIER compiled by the Prefecture of Police in Paris is labeled simply ""Accident Mortel de la Circulation Date 31/8/97 Heure 00h30.'' The file name is dry, but its contents are provocative. Nestled among sheets of police reports, carefully sketched diagrams and statements from witnesses are photographs of Diana in the wreckage of the Mercedes. Taken by a paparazzo, Diana, eyes open, appears conscious and unhurt; there is no sign of blood. Appearances aside, Diana was hurt--badly hurt. And less than four hours later, she was dead.

Six weeks after the crash the world still wonders what, exactly, happened that night. With painstaking detail, the French police have put together a file that answers many of those questions. The dossier and interviews with those on the scene of the accident reveal surprising new details about the crash that on Aug. 31 killed Diana, her lover Dodi Fayed and driver Henri Paul, and seriously injured bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones.

The file begins at 12:23 a.m., in the Place de l' Alma Tunnel. It notes that paparazzi, who had been stalking Diana and Dodi since their arrival earlier that day in Paris, appeared on the scene two minutes after the collision. A minute behind them was Frederic Mailliez, an emergency doctor employed by SOS Medecins, a private firm. In an interview with NEWSWEEK, he described what happened next. ""I held her hand and spoke to her, took her pulse, put the resuscitation mask on her, assured her that she was safe.'' He also called for help. Within five minutes of the accident, two ambulances arrived, each with a doctor.

It took the emergency workers a full 52 minutes to place Diana in the ambulance. It proceeded slowly along the Seine, led by a motorcycle escort. At the Pont d'Austerlitz, a short distance from the hospital, the motorcade pulled off the road; Diana's heart had stopped beating. She was injected with a strong dose of adrenaline, and the ambulance continued on. Finally, at 2:05 in the morning, 43 minutes after leaving the scene, Diana arrived at the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital, a 3.7-mile trip. After trying for two hours to save her, doctors at 4:05 a.m. officially pronounced Diana dead.

To many, the elapsed time from the arrival of the ambulance at the accident scene to the hospital--a total of one hour and 45 minutes--seemed inordinately long. Diana, after all, didn't have to be cut out of the car (though both Rees-Jones and Paul did). And the ambulance bypassed at least two major hospitals. To Parisians, the pace of the trip was entirely understandable. French ambulances are always staffed with a fully qualified doctor and are considered an extension of the hospital; driving slowly is standard. ""It's worse to go fast,'' says Mailliez. ""Braking and accelerating can literally kill your patient, because the blood races to head and feet alternately.'' And the Pitie-Salpetriere has the best-equipped emergency room in Paris.

In the end, Diana's internal injuries were so massive (most important, a severe lesion to her pulmonary vein) that even if the accident had happened in front of an emergency room, she couldn't have been saved. In lay terms, ""her heart had been ripped out of its place in her chest,'' says Mailliez. ""There was no chance for her.''

No chance even for her to speak? News reports said the Fayed family had been given a message containing Diana's final requests, but a spokesman at the Pitie-Salpetriere last week said that ""during her hours at the hospital, Diana, Princess of Wales, was unconscious and could therefore make no statements or remarks.'' If Diana had any last words, Mailliez probably heard them. The paparazzi at the scene have been quoted as saying that Diana told rescue workers, ""Leave me alone'' and ""My God.'' Mailliez would not tell NEWSWEEK what Diana said. ""I must respect the privacy of the patient.'' Could she have left any message to pass on to family? ""When you're in that kind of pain, you don't think about giving testaments to the next generation. The only thing you think of expressing is the pain.''

To French police, such details are no longer important. What matters now is solving the mystery of how the crash occurred. The Diana dossier indicates that they've made surprising progress. Investigators say they now are convinced that a white Fiat Uno, made between 1983 and 1989, played a key role. And they are confident that by searching computer records that link ownership to paint color and other details, they'll find the car during the next week or so--assuming it's available to find.

LOCATING THE CAR AND ITS driver would help confirm the investigators' working scenario of the crash. Police believe that driver Henri Paul braked suddenly when he came upon the slow-moving Fiat in the Alma tunnel, then sped up and tried to pass the car on the left. Portions of a taillight belonging to a Fiat Uno found near the first set of tire tracks made by the Mercedes and traces of white paint on the Mercedes's right side mirror indicate that Paul sideswiped the Fiat as he tried to pass. Tire tracks a few feet farther into the tunnel suggest that in trying to regain control of the car, Paul stepped on the gas--and lost control.

Some of this, the dossier makes clear, was known to authorities in the first few hours after the accident. But investigators initially focused on the paparazzi. ""They should have studied all the hypotheses right away,'' says attorney Gilbert Collard, who represents one of the photographers arrested at the scene. ""If they had looked for the Fiat Uno at the beginning, they wouldn't have such a mystery now.''

Once police began to probe the second-car theory, they ran into other problems. The Fiat debris didn't seem to fit with the statements gathered from 17 witnesses in and immediately outside the tunnel at the time of the accident. Eight of the 10 who were closest said they heard two crashes, or saw something that indicated that the two cars had collided. But not one of them saw a white car; in fact, they named a variety of colors, from gray to dark blue. Benoit B., as he is identified in the dossier, was in a car driving on the other side of the tunnel. ""I heard the squeal of tires and then the sound of a minor impact,'' Benoit says. ""I saw two vehicles, the first car was dark ... I think the Mercedes was going so quickly it hit the other car and then lost control.'' Color wasn't the only problem. With the wreckage of the Mercedes blocking the way ahead, how did the Fiat Uno disappear? And if the Mercedes clipped a lightweight Fiat at 90 miles per hour, why didn't the Fiat crash?

Police still can't answer that question. But by reconstructing the accident in the Alma tunnel two weeks ago and consulting photographs taken at the scene, they have solved some of the mystery. NEWSWEEK has learned that the pictures (most confiscated from paparazzi) showed that, contrary to what was at first thought, six cars passed the wreck before traffic was stopped. That would have made it possible for the Fiat to come to a stop, recover and drive on. And during the reconstruction, everyone noticed that the tunnel's yellowish lighting greatly distorted color.

So why haven't the occupants come forward? One possible reason, police say: the Fiat Uno may have been carrying additional paparazzi. It had been assumed that all of the photographers were some 200 meters behind the Mercedes when it entered the tunnel from the Place de la Concorde. But there is significant evidence, NEWSWEEK has learned, that at least one was on a motorcycle in front of the Mercedes. Mark Butt, a friend of Dr. Mailliez's who arrived on the scene with him, said that as they approached the tunnel from the west, they saw a motorcycle with a single rider emerge from the east--traveling in the same direction as the Mercedes. Butt says it stopped, made a U-turn and drove against the direction of traffic back into the tunnel.

If Diana had died in the United States, someone could ultimately be held financially responsible for her demise. But the Princess of Wales died in France, where massive punitive awards are neither the custom nor the law. While investigators advance their probe, determining whether they have a criminal case to bring, the world waits, anxious to know what really happened on that late summer night in Paris.