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Today marks the 79th anniversary of the tragic death of Queen Astrid, consort of King Leopold III. Ironically, August 29, 1935 dawned bright and clear, promising an enjoyable alpine excursion to the royal couple. As Time reported:
For days it had been raining in Switzerland. Leopold of Belgium and Queen Astrid, vacationing in the Villa Haslihorn near Lucerne, sent their three small children back to Brussels. But next morning the sun came out hot and strong, with the promise of a fine day for a mountain climb, a sport of which Leopold was just as fond as his father. Hobnail boots, ropes and alpenstocks were piled into the back of the royal Packard touring car beside the chauffeur. In front Leopold took the wheel while Astrid sat beside him, holding a road map. They started down the lakeside road, keeping close to the curb because the pavement was slippery. In a second it was all over. Just before reaching Kussnacht, with the car rolling along at 50 m.p.h. Leopold turned his head to look at the road map. The right wheels of the car slipped through one of the 18-ft. openings in the concrete curb. For some 95 feet it careened along, the right wheels at times three feet lower than the left. Then it struck a young pear tree, swerved at right angles. The Queen and the chauffeur were thrown clear. The car rolled down the bank, caromed off another tree and into the shallow water of the lake.
With his hands sprained, his lower lip slashed and a rib fractured, King Leopold crawled from the car and over to the body of his wife. He could see that she was already dead, her skull fractured, her chest gashed with broken glass. Aides following in a second car rushed hastily back for an ambulance while King Leopold, dazed and bloody, stood looking down at his dead Queen.
Witnesses reported the devastated King crying “Astrid ! Astrid ! ” and clasping his wife’s body to his heart. Later, he would confide to the Queen’s best friend, Anna Sparre: “My life is over." In a voice broken by sobs, he asked his secretary, Robert Capelle: " Why did the good God take her away from me ? We were so happy ! ” The tragic death of his father, King Albert I, only 18 months earlier, had plunged Belgium and its royal family into deep mourning, and now all the sorrowful scenes would be repeated…