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Prince Charles arrives in Paris to take Diana’s body home

August 31, 1997 GMT

PARIS (AP) _ A somber Prince Charles escorted the flag-draped coffin of his former wife, Princess Diana, from a hospital on Sunday, after she was killed in a car crash while racing away from pursuing photographers.

Charles arrived at the hospital where Diana’s body lay at 5:40 p.m. (11:40 a.m. EDT), along with the princess’s two grief-stricken sisters. He was met by President Jacques Chirac and his wife, Bernadette.

A half-hour later, Diana’s coffin, draped in the multicolored Royal Standard, the personal flag of the royal family, was placed in a hearse, and the prince’s motorcade drove to an airfield near Paris, where they took off for Britain.

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French police, meanwhile, stepped up their investigation of seven photographers they think may have contributed to Sunday’s early-morning crash that killed the 36-year-old Diana, her wealthy companion Dodi Fayed, and their chauffeur.

The jet black Mercedes in which Diana and Fayed were riding crashed in a traffic tunnel just north of the Eiffel Tower, at the Pont de l’Alma bridge.

French police had detained seven photographers who apparently were following the vehicle and were questioning them, looking into whether any of them may have caused the tragedy.

The 36-year-old princess has often complained of being plagued by the paparazzi _ the commercial photographers who have trailed her since she has been in the public eye.

She died at 4 a.m. (10 p.m. EDT Saturday) from internal bleeding stemming from major chest and lung injuries, doctors told a hospital news conference.

Despite extensive surgery, ``we could not revive her,″ said Dr. Bruno Riou, anesthesiologist at Paris’ Hospital de la Pitie Salpetriere.

He said Diana had quickly gone into cardiac arrest, and that doctors had tried to save her for at least two hours with internal and external cardiac massage. She never regained consciousness after the crash, French radio said.

Charles informed his sons, Princes William, 15, and Harry, 12, of their mother’s death in the early morning hours Sunday at Balmoral Castle, Scotland, where the royal family traditionally spend their summer holidays.

Queen Elizabeth II and Charles said they were ``deeply shocked and distressed by this terrible news,″ a Buckingham Palace spokesman said.

The Duchess of York, the former Sarah Ferguson, said Sunday she had lost a sister with Diana’s death.

The duchess, known as Fergie, who is divorced from Prince Charles’ younger brother, Prince Andrew, was flying back from Italy and had canceled a trip next week to the United States, her office said in a statement.

``The duchess has lost someone she has always considered a sister and a best friend,″ the statement said. ``There are no words strong enough to describe the pain in her heart.″

The crash happened shortly after midnight, after Diana and Fayed had dined at the Ritz Hotel _ owned by Fayed’s family _ and were on their way to a private villa in western Paris, also owned by Fayed, French radio said.

As Diana and Fayed’s car entered the tunnel along the Seine River, they reportedly were trailed by at least seven paparazzi on motorcycles in a high-speed pursuit of photos.

France’s interior minister, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, said Diana’s car was traveling at high speed through the tunnel, and the driver lost control. He didn’t specify the speed, but a source close to the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was well over 60 mph. The speed limit was 30 mph.

The source added that the two were not believed to be wearing seatbelts.

It said the car crashed into a concrete post in the center divider, then bounced into the right wall. The impact decimated the car, turning it into a heap of crumpled metal and broken glass.

France Info radio said at least some of the photographers took pictures before help arrived _ and that one of the photographers was beaten at the scene by horrified witnesses. Six of the photographers were French and one was Macedonian.

Police also impounded two motorcycles and a scooter.

Fayed, the 42-year-old son of the billionaire Egyptian owner of London’s prestigious Harrod’s department store, died immediately. Also killed was the chauffeur _ a security agent at the Ritz Hotel, owned by Fayed’s father, Mohamed Al Fayed.

Al Fayed identified his son’s body Sunday morning in a Paris morgue.

The fourth person in the car, a bodyguard, was seriously injured in the crash.

News of the widely popular princess’s death left people across Britain and elsewhere saddened. Radio and television stations played the national anthem.

President Clinton expressed sorrow, saying he and his wife, Hillary, ``knew Princess Diana and we were very fond of her.″

In a statement from Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where he’s vacationing, Clinton said that his thoughts were with Diana’s family, friends ``and especially her children.″

Asked if the media should back off, he replied, ``I think it is better right now if we let a little time pass and let this event and the people involved be honored and grieved, and then we’ll have time to think about that and make a better judgment.

``I think it’s better for me not to say anything until this moment has received it’s due respect.″

People gathered Sunday morning outside Diana’s Kensington Palace residence. Some sat with their heads in their hands, near tears.

One man lit two candles at Kensington Palace, and flowers piled up.

``I just feel disbelief more than shock,″ said student Fiona von Schank, 24, who brought two roses. ``It’s amazing that this woman who finally seemed to have just about found some happiness has now died so tragically.″

American tourists Tom Richardson and Joanna Luz were among the first on the scene.

They told CNN they were walking nearby when they heard the crash and ran into the tunnel.

``There was smoke. I think the car hit a wall,″ said Richardson, of San Diego. ``A man started running towards us telling us to go.″

``The horn was sounding for about two minutes,″ said Miss Luz. ``I think it was the driver against the steering wheel.″

Diana and Charles, heir to the British throne, separated in 1992 after 11 years of marriage and divorced last year.

Charles has said he has no plans to remarry, but he remains close to Camilla Parker Bowles, the woman Diana blamed for the breakup of their marriage.

Diana was the youngest of the late Earl Spencer’s three daughters. The sisters’ only brother, Charles, who is the current earl, lives in South Africa.

In Cape Town, Earl Spencer accused the media of killing his sister.

``I always believed the press would kill her in the end,″ Spencer said, pointing a finger at editors or publishers who had paid for intrusive pictures. Every one of them, he said, ``has blood on his hands.″

Spencer added he was glad his sister was in a place ``where no human being can ever touch her again.″