A witness to Princess Diana’s death crash says her chances of survival were greatly reduced by emergency service delays – and he believes “other forces” were behind the tragic accident.
Retired lawyer Stanlee Culbreath was one of the first witnesses to the tragic crash, but maintained a dignified silence out of respect for the then-young Princes William and Harry.
But now, almost 20 years since Diana’s death, the 69-year-old sheds new details on the crash, critically questioning whether she could have lived if French emergency services had acted faster.
Mr Culbreath said: “I always thought it was suspicious, that other forces played a hand, but now, 20 years on, I question more than ever whether it was a genuine accident. I just think it is dubious.
“If that’s the Princess, why did it take 20 minutes or so to get to her and, when she was finally released [from the car], why did they pass one hospital and take her to another?”
Mr Culbreath told how, at the scene, although at that time unaware Diana was a victim, he commented to a friend, “Damn, a junkie on Main Street would get waited on quicker than this”.
He added: “There are so many questions I ask myself over and over again about how the accident was handled and if she could have been saved.
“I pleaded for the police to help, but they were very nonchalant about the entire thing.”
Mr Culbreath, of Columbus, Ohio, had been in Paris on August 31, 1997, as part of a European tour with his friends Clarence Williams and Michael Walker.
They arrived in the city hours before the crash and took a late-night sight-seeing tour of the Eiffel Tower.
As they made their way back to the hotel in a taxi at around 12.20am, they entered the Pont de l’Alma tunnel and were confronted with the smoldering wreckage of the Princess’s car.
“Our taxi driver stopped a few feet from their limo,” Mr Culbreath recalled. He explained France has a Good Samaritan law and it was our duty to stop and help. We got out only a few feet away from their Mercedes. The car was up on the wall and the front passenger door was already open.”
At that time, Mr Culbreath did not know the car’s passengers were Princess Diana, 36, her lover Dodi Fayed, 42, driver Henri Paul, 41, and bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, now 49, who was the sole survivor and only passenger to wear a seat-belt.
He recalled: “We hadn’t heard the bang, as the crash happened just as we got into the tunnel. Their car was smoking, the muffler [from the exhaust] was on the floor.
“I went over and Trevor Rees-Jones had his legs out of the car and was holding a towel or something to his nose, as he was bleeding heavily.
“There were only four or five of us there, so I went over to the car and looked into it to see if we could help.”
Unbeknown to Mr Culbreath and his friends, Diana was in the rear injured and Dodi was already dead. “I didn’t know who was in the back until later but at one point I was… a few inches away from the Princess trying to look through her window,” he explained.
“I remember saying to the guys at the time, ‘Is there an ambulance coming or something?’ as there was no sign of one arriving.
“After 15 or 20 minutes, there was still no paramedic on the scene and I said to my friends, ‘Damn, a junkie on Main Street would get waited on quicker than this’.
“There was only one cop there I could see who told us to get back. He kept saying, ‘Get away, get away’.
“As the window’s in the rear were dark, I could not see who was the in the back. I was pleading with the officer to open the door… it looked like it could be pulled open. He wasn’t doing sh*t. He wasn’t doing anything.
“It was as if those there had decided nothing could be done. It’s just my opinion, but it took them a long time to get her out.
“It could have been up to 30 minutes before help came. We were there for at least 15 minutes. Why wasn’t an ambulance there quicker?
“I never heard an ambulance, the whole time I was there. I never heard a siren. My recollection was that there seemed to be an insurmountable amount time for an emergency vehicle to respond. I said to the guys, ‘I’d hate to get into an accident in Paris as nobody shows up’.
It could have been that her chances of survival were significantly decreased by the amount of time it took for the paramedics to arrive.
“It’s common sense that the longer someone is left, their chances of survival are less.
“When we left, there still wasn’t an ambulance. The speed of which they responded was inadequate. Questions need to be asked.”
During the 18-month French inquiry into the accident, it was determined the crash was caused by driver Henri Paul, who was drunk behind the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz S280, travelling at 65mph. Paul, 41, was the deputy head of security at the Ritz Hotel, in Paris. During the inquest, in 2007, it emerged it took an hour and six minutes from the time Diana was taken from the wrecked car until she reached the hospital.
The inquest heard the princess may have lived had French medics not “squandered” crucial minutes treating her at the scene.
Mr Culbreath said he was also sceptical about the delay in getting Diana out of the wreckage and claimed the door on her side could have been opened. He said: “I thought the car was in a condition where you could open the door.
“I didn’t feel there was enough damage to the car that you couldn’t open the back door – and the front door was already open.
“So why couldn’t you go through that door?
“When the car eventually came out of the tunnel on a lorry it was as big as a pancake, but when I saw it, one side wasn’t. It was the side the Princess was on. I later learned the ‘jaws of life’ were used. Why didn’t they just open the door.
“She wasn’t dead, she was talking.”
Mr Culbreath, who was not called at the inquest, but provided a statement, said he didn’t give an interview until now to protect Diana’s children.
He explained: “My children were the same age as Prince William and Prince Harry at the time.
I never to spoke to anyone, as I wanted to protect them all.”
Reflecting on the Princess of Wales, Mr Culbreath added: “I thought Diana was a great person. She was always there for people and dedicated herself to the common purpose.
“She was always there for people in their hour of need, for the common man – but when her hour came, it seemed the response was sadly lacking.”