Video: Leaders struggle to reach Poland for funeral

  1. Closed captioning of: Leaders struggle to reach Poland for funeral

    >> trish regan , thank you very much .

    >>> that cloud of ash is also preventing several world leaders including president obama from flying to tomorrow's funeral mass in poland for victims of last week's plane crash . today tens of thousands of people did come to a public memorial in warsaw 's biggest public square . our story from nbc 's jim maceda .

    >> reporter: 8:56 this morning, one week to the minute since the tragedy struck, and the whole nation stopped for a moment of silence . hours later, at least 100,000 poles crammed into warsaw 's main square for an outdoor memorial service .

    >> lech kaczynski , maria kaczynska .

    >> reporter: the names of all 96 victims starting with the deceased president and his wife were read out, their photos projected on huge tv screens. bishops, lawmakers, generals, poland 's loss was profound. this list is like the hole of poland , says the prime minister, and it is like all our history. even as warsaw said good-bye, final touches were being made for sunday's state funeral in krakow, poland 's ancient capital. the tomb that will hold the presidential couple's remains ready for burial, in a crypt to be shared with none other than a 20th century military icon. that triggered protests by those who don't believe president kaczynski, however admired, deserves to be buried in the resting place of poland 's kings and heros.

    >> he's done nothing such important or such big to be buried in here.

    >> reporter: but others disagree, and at least 100 world dignitaries have planned to attend tomorrow's funeral to pay their respects to the polish leader, but that was before the cloud of volcanic grit shut down polish air space as well. now, one leader after another has, with regrets, canceled the trip including obama who today cited hazardous flying conditions. the kaczynski family says the funeral will go on, marking the end of poland 's official mourning, if not its national trauma . jim maceda , nbc news, krakow.

updated 4/17/2010 7:03:03 PM ET 2010-04-17T23:03:03

President Barack Obama scrapped plans to travel to Poland on Saturday for the funeral of Poland's president because of hazardous flying conditions caused by the volcanic ash cloud over Europe.

Obama said the U.S. ambassador to Poland, Lee Feinstein, would represent the United States at the service Sunday in Krakow for Lech Kaczynski.

The White House announcement came about six hours before Obama was scheduled to depart on the overnight flight. Obama called Poland's acting president, Bronislaw Komorowski, with the news that the trip was off, citing fallout from the volcano in Iceland.

Kaczynski and 95 others, including numerous lawmakers, the central bank governor, the commanders of the country's armed forces and the head of its Olympic committee, died in a plane crash April 10 near Russia's Katyn forest, site of a World War II massacre of Polish officers.

Obama said in a statement that he would support the Polish people in any way he can as they recover from the loss of so many leaders and officials.

He said the late president and others who died were close friends of the United States. "The American people will never forget the lives they led," Obama said.

Flights grounded
All airports in Poland were closed Saturday to flights above the cloud level of 20,000 feet because of the ash cloud, including Balice in Krakow, where most of the dignitaries were expected to arrive Sunday morning, said Grzegorz Hlebowicz, spokesman for Poland's aviation authorities.

Air space across a wide area from Britain to Ukraine was closed and set to stay that way until Sunday or Monday, affecting airports from New Zealand to San Francisco.

Scientists say that because the Icelandic volcano is situated below a glacial ice cap, the magma is being cooled quickly, causing explosions and plumes of grit that can be catastrophic to plane engines.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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