“The car was in a mess and we just dealt with it like any road accident,” Xavier Gourmelon said when his team arrived at the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris. “We got straight to work to see who needed help and who was alive. Diana said to me, ‘My God, what’s happened?'”
According to Gourmelon, the princess was conscious and had her eyes open when he pulled her out of the wrecked Mercedes. “She was moving very slightly and I could see she was alive … I could see she had a slight injury to her right shoulder but, other than that, there was nothing significant. There was no blood on her at all.”
When Gourmelon and others lifted her from the backseat and onto a stretcher, she suffered cardiac arrest.
“I massaged her heart and a few seconds later she was breathing again,” he said. “It was a relief of course because, as a first responder, you want to save lives – and that’s what I thought I had done. To be honest, I thought she would live. As far as I knew when she was in the ambulance she was alive and I expected her to live. But I found out later she had died in the hospital. It was very upsetting.”
The now-retired firefighter said that at the time, he didn’t realize that the woman he’d pulled from the wreckage was Princess Diana. (He said one of the paramedics told him after she had already been loaded into the ambulance.)
“I was so shocked,” he said. “I knew who she was, but don’t follow British royalty closely. I went to the ambulance and looked in and that’s when I recognized her.”
Gourmelon also recalled how Diana’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, kept trying to reach the princess from the front seat of the car, though he was also injured. “He kept asking for the princess, saying, ‘Where is she? Where is she?'” he said. “But my team told him to keep calm and not speak. I told him that none of my men spoke English so it was better for him to keep still and not move. I told him not to worry we were looking after everyone.”
Gourmelon said he has not spoken publicly about that fateful night for 20 years because he continued serving in the fire service until only recently, and was not allowed to speak to a news outlet about his experience while serving as a firefighter.