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On September 13, 1982, Grace Kelly and her daughter, Princess Stephanie, were in a car crash. Due largely to a series of misleading communiques from the Monaco palace—the hospital’s chief surgeon would call them “garbage” in the New York Times—the public was mislead about both the nature of the crash and the severity of Princess Grace’s injuries.
The confusion at the time has lead to an ongoing sense that the public wasn’t given the whole story—but we were. Here’s what really happened.
Princess Grace was driving with her daughter to the train station.
According to an excerpt from Jeffrey Robinson’s Rainier and Grace: An Intimate Portrait, published in the Chicago Tribune, the pair had train tickets to Paris, where 17-year-old Stephanie was slated to start school.
Grace’s chauffeur brought out the princess’s 11-year-old Rover, and offered to drive, but Grace insisted that she could do so, as they couldn’t fit three people in the car with the luggage. About two miles outside of La Turbie, Grace missed a particularly sharp turn, sending the car over a 120-foot slope.
Stephanie’s sister Caroline relayed to Robinson what Stephanie told her had happened in the car.”Stephanie told me, ‘Mommy kept saying, I can’t stop. The brakes don’t work. I can’t stop.’ She said that Mommy was in a complete panic. Stephanie grabbed the hand brake. She told me right after the accident, ‘I pulled on the hand brake but it wouldn’t stop. I tried but I just couldn’t stop the car.'”
Grace and Stephanie were both rushed to the hospital.
Stephanie was released from the hospital the next day with only minor injuries. Grace suffered a second hemorrhage, likely caused by the accident, and never regained consciousness, according to Robinson. She died at the age of 52.
It’s thought that the crash was caused by Princess Grace having a hemorrhage.
Stephanie revealed in an interview that Grace had been having a headache, and seemed to black out for a moment. Then the car started to swerve, before going full speed ahead over the cliff.
Days later, doctors would confirm that they had found evidence of Grace having a “cerebral vascular incident.” Dr. Jean Chatelain, chief surgeon at the hospital where she was treated, described the condition to the Times. “It was an incident which, if it occurred at home—well, she might have sat down and perhaps felt better soon,” he said. “It could have been relatively benign, but you can’t say for sure. It’s conjecture. In other circumstances, of course, things could have evolved in a different manner.”
It’s thought that Grace either confused the brake with the accelerator, or didn’t have the use of her legs.
At first, there was (incorrect) speculation that it was Stephanie, not Grace, who was driving.
This was thanks to interviews given by the man who first found the scene of the crash. He noted that he pulled Stephanie out of the driver’s side. As Stephanie has since clarified, this wasn’t because she was seated there. “The passenger door was completely smashed in,” she said, per The Guardian. “I got out on the only accessible side, the driver’s.”
There were also false reports that Princess Grace would recover.
Despite Grace’s severe condition, spokesmen for the palace continued to communicate that Grace was stable, although suffering from a broken thigh, collarbone, and ribs.
It wasn’t just the public that was misinformed. “I was led to believe she was out of danger,” Grace’s brother John Kelly told reporters in Philadelphia, per the Times.
“The communiques were administrative ones, not medical bulletins,” a doctor at the hospital told the Times. He and Dr. Chatelain insisted that the palace’s incorrect messaging lead to suspicions that Stephanie was at the wheel, and that Grace didn’t receive proper medical care.
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