A moment in time: AP reporters remember Diana’s death

LONDON (AP) — It was a hot Saturday night and a group of journalists had gathered at a Parisian restaurant to enjoy the last weekend of summer.

LONDON (AP) — It was a hot Saturday night and a group of journalists had gathered at a Parisian restaurant to enjoy the last weekend of summer. Around midnight, the phones around the table started ringing – apparently all at once – as press offices contacted reporters and photographers to alert them that Princess Diana’s car had crashed into the tunnel from the Pont de l’Alma.

Here’s how the news of Diana’s death unfolded in the early hours of August 31, 1997, and the days that followed, as told by reporters who covered the story for The Associated Press.


Jocelyn Noveck, then editor of the Associated Press in Paris:

“We were paying the bill and all of a sudden there was this cacophony of cell phones ringing. The first one that exploded was a British journalist, a British cameraman, and he just got up and started running. And the rest of us screamed, “What happened? And he just said, “The Princess of Wales!” Accident!’ And then I kept running.”

“The first thought there was oh, maybe one of the boats that go up and down the Seine, the Bateaux Mouches, maybe one of them is called the Princess of Wales and it crashed on the banks of the river. It sounded like a digestible story to imagine. But, of course, it was soon realized that Diana was in a car, in a limo… the Mercedes had crashed .”


Stuart McAlister, former Associated Press cameraman in Paris:

“I went down the tunnel and it was chaos, absolute chaos. There were late night revelers and tourists who of course were walking at this time of night to get back to their hotels. They were in top of the Pont de l’Alma and were looking down. They couldn’t see anything because they were at the top of the bridge…. The police were doing what they could to hold people back. Of course, having a pass from press, I just jumped on the road, ran down the center of the road… I could very clearly see the emergency vehicles and the Mercedes going down the tunnel, so I stood at that intersection and I started filming what I could.


Jérôme Delay, AP photographer:

“I parked my motorbike, and as I parked it, I saw a police van coming out and with windows you could see through. And I saw colleagues in that police van. My first thought was been: “Well, if there’s a picture to be taken, they were there before – they got it. I’m just gonna be here to pick up the pieces. Well, it turns out they did pictures, that the rest of their film had been seized and everything. And I started filming from afar what was pretty much a car accident, of all. … I don’t like to call it luck because that it was not a very pleasant situation. People were injured. People died. But they brought in a tow truck and a crane to remove the vehicle, at which point I just moved. It was very easy I mean, there was no real police blockade or anything like that stopping me from doing my job I guess I was very low key because I wasn’t wearing not have 20 cameras around your neck and did not shout to the world: “Let me pass, I am a journalist, I have rights, blah, blah, blah”. I walked slowly towards where I had to be to be able to see. And I took some pictures from above as the car came out of the tunnel on this flatbed truck. And it turns out, I think, in my 30 years at the Associated Press, this may be the worst photo I’ve ever taken, but also the most published photo I’ve never taken, because, I suppose, its historical value.


Chris Burns, former AP reporter:

“I went to the Salpêtrière Hospital, where Diana was taken. And there we watched the flowers and the mourners gather outside and wait for news, wait to hear something from the hospital, and it seemed like hours and it was hours. And finally they called a press conference before sunrise. And there the anesthesiologist was describing all the medical procedures that they had undergone to try to resuscitate her. It was a bit laborious. It took a while. We were like, ‘OK, well, well, is she alive? Is she dead? And then finally, after this long description, he said, “We couldn’t revive her. We pronounced her dead at…” I think it was 4:00 in the morning. And there was this moment of silence, this sort of pause. What I I felt was: princesses don’t die like that anyway, do they?… And then everyone was jostling for their phones. moment of denial was quite emotional, actually. Moving.”


Yves Dam Van, former AP cameraman in Paris:

“My first memory is that I felt like the sky was falling on us. As a journalist, you kind of think about all the events that could happen. Diana was not on the list because she was an icon to everyone, and icons don’t die. When the phone rang after midnight and I was told the news, I was left puzzled. I thought, ‘This is not ‘It’s not possible, it can’t happen. It’s impossible, someone is playing a joke on me.'”


Following Diana’s death, the story moved to London, where members of the public gathered outside her home to mourn the loss of a young woman they had seen grow from shy teenager to princess. glamorous who has championed causes ranging from AIDS treatment to mine clearance. .


Ted Anthony, AP reporter who traveled from New York to help cover the story:

“I remember walking through Kensington Gardens and seeing all those flowers and drawings. I vividly remember one from Moomina from the Maldives that stood out to me, and they were all talking about the importance of Diana in their lives and how they saw the world in her work on AIDS, her work with charities and simply her status as a woman who persevered and endured. … What I remember most is people who normally wouldn’t have been affected by this stuff telling me that they were deeply affected. And the whole notion of the people’s princess and (former Prime Minister) Tony Blair talking about her and all that, it all came together to form this – the word surreal is overused – but I think it was a few surreal days where you felt like you were somehow caught up in something and carried away by a wave. And your job was to watch and chronicle and try to understand. But you knew it was bigger than anyone around you.


Maureen Johnson, former AP London reporter:

“I remember being on the streets around Westminster and a bit further and just the large number of people who had come. There seemed to be very little traffic and just people of all colors and walks of life…and carrying these piles and piles of flowers. And it was almost unreal. There was a kind of silence in central London. And it lasted several days. »


Myron Belkind, former London bureau chief

“It just shows you the impact a person could have and she did from 1981 to 1997. Hard to imagine she died aged 36. And I also think when we go back to Westminster Abbey, how could we ever forget Elton John playing and singing “Goodbye, English Rose”? It was a moment that I think united the country and the world. Here I am at 82 years old. I think it’s hard to imagine this could have happened to anyone (other) than Princess Diana… This is a lesson for us in the future. There are others who will come to the fore and it will have an impact, but hard to imagine he will rise to the level of Princess Diana’s life.”

Danica Kirka, The Associated Press