The accident that changed Monaco forever (Part one)

accident grace
dpa picture alliance / Alamy Stock Photo

The day of 13 September 1982 started like any other Monday. Princess Grace of Monaco had a full schedule for the week ahead. She was supposed to meet with Robert Dornhelm in Paris to discuss the reworking of Rearranged, an independent film that she and her husband Prince Rainier had been working on together. Their daughter Stéphanie was also supposed to be in Paris to start a course in fashion design. However, she had announced that she wished to attend a car racing school with her boyfriend Paul Belmondo instead. Her parents were shocked, and several arguments followed. The day after the Paris meeting, Grace was supposed to go to the United Kingdom to attend a poetry reading at Windsor Castle alongside The Queen.

The family had spent the weekend of 11-12 September at their estate of Roc Agel with Robert Dornhelm. He left for Paris on Sunday. Grace and Stéphanie left the house at Roc Agel around 9.45 a.m. Grace drove down the narrow road with Stéphanie in the passenger seat. Several gowns and dressed were stashed in the backseat, as Grace did not want them to get creased. One of these dresses would become the dress she wore as she lay in state. The dresses were also the reason that the chauffeur was not the one driving the car but stayed behind. The car went down the extremely curvy Route D 37, with several sharp hairpin turns after each other.

Grace suddenly suffered a cerebral haemorrhage while at the wheel of the car, and the car began to skid and skirt along the rock wall. Then the car sped down the hill, heading towards the next hairpin turn without slowing down. The car plunged off the 130-foot cliff and came to rest between the trees and bushes of a private garden. It was now 10.05 a.m. Stéphanie managed to crawl out of the car and begged the people who ran toward them to call for help. Grace was sprawled across the inside of the car with her head towards the rear. One of her legs appeared to be twisted; she was unconscious and had a headwound. Emergency personnel managed to extract her from the car, and she was transported to her namesake hospital. Stéphanie was transported in the second ambulance. Prince Rainier and Prince Albert reached the site shortly before 10.30 a.m and saw how Grace and Stéphanie were being loaded into the ambulances.

After Grace’s arrival at the hospital, she was examined by Dr Charles Louis Chatelin, who was the head of surgery. She was immediately taken into emergency surgery, which lasted for four hours. She suffered from internal bleeding, which had to be stopped. She had also suffered breaks in her thighs, clavicle and ribs. Her headwound was also bleeding heavily, and her brain damage turned out to be severe. She urgently needed a CT scan to determine the severity of the damage, but there wasn’t a CT machine at the hospital. The only CT machine belonged to a private physician, and his office was on the third floor. The small elevator could not accommodate the stretcher Grace was on, and so they had to carry her up the stairs. By the time a scan was made, 13 hours had passed since the accident.

A relatively innocent communique from the Palace stated that Grace had a fractured right thighbone, a broken rib and a shattered collarbone. Stéphanie was slightly bruised but otherwise uninjured. “Both were taken to the hospital named after Grace, where they were reported to be in good condition.”1 In reality, Stéphanie had a concussion and a vertebrae injury. She was kept in the dark about the seriousness of her mother’s condition.2

Read part two here.

  1. The New York Times
  2. Grace. A Biography by Thilo Wydra p.294-298

About Moniek Bloks 2732 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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