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World Mourns Death of Princess

Diana's body arrives in London
The coffin containing the body of Diana, Princess of Wales, is carried from an aircraft by members of the Royal Air Force.
Photo By Lynne Sladky/AP
By Dan Balz
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 1, 1997;
Page A01

LONDON, Aug. 31—The body of Diana, Princess of Wales, was returned to Britain tonight amid a worldwide outpouring of grief for the glamorous but vulnerable young woman who was killed early Sunday with her male companion and a chauffeur in an automobile accident in Paris.

Her body was accompanied aboard a Royal Air Force plane from Paris by her former husband, Charles, Prince of Wales, and her two sisters. The coffin, draped with a Royal Standard, was met by Prime Minister Tony Blair and other dignitaries. With military precision, it was loaded onto a waiting hearse and taken to a private mortuary in downtown London. Funeral arrangements remained under discussion tonight, and officials at Buckingham Palace said details likely would be announced Monday morning.

Meanwhile, thousands of mourners streamed to the site of the crash, to the Paris hospital where Diana died, and to Buckingham and Kensington palaces in London to leave flowers and handwritten remembrances. Other tributes poured into Britain from all over the globe -- from President Clinton and Mother Teresa to Russian President Boris Yeltsin and singer Elton John, whom Diana was seen comforting recently at the funeral of Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace. Professional soccer games were canceled across Britain; at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, spectators and players observed a moment of silence in her honor.

Details of the fatal crash remained sketchy today as Paris police continued their investigation. What seemed clear is that the car in which Diana and companion Dodi Fayed were riding, a Mercedes 600 sedan, was traveling at high speed when it veered out of control in a tunnel under the Place d'Alma on the right bank of the Seine River, striking at least one concrete pillar head-on and ricocheting into a wall.

Media reports quoted Paris police as saying the Mercedes was traveling as fast as 90 mph in a 30-mph zone, pursued by a number of photographers on motorcycles and in cars. French police were holding seven photographers as part of their investigation, but reports conflicted over whether any were near the car when it crashed.

The photographers' role in the accident touched off a backlash in Britain and around the world against intrusive celebrity cameramen and the media's voracious appetite for their product. Diana's brother, the ninth Earl Spencer, was among the most forceful of the critics, declaring: "I always believed the press would kill [Diana] in the end, but not even I could imagine that they would take such a direct hand in her death as seems to be the case."

Earlier today, Blair expressed the pain his fellow countryman were feeling over the sudden death of a princess who had touched the people of this country as no one else in this generation.

"We are today a nation in Britain in a state of shock, in mourning, in grief that is so deeply painful for us," Blair said. He added: "We know how difficult things were for her from time to time. I am sure we can only guess that. But people everywhere, not just here in Britain, kept faith with Princess Diana. . . . She was the people's princess, and that is how she will stay, how she will remain in our hearts and our memories forever."

President Clinton, speaking to reporters at Martha's Vineyard, where he is vacationing, praised Diana's charitable work in behalf of children and people with AIDS and said the American people "send their condolences" to all the British people. "For myself, I will always be glad that I knew the princess and always think of her in strong and positive terms, as will Hillary."

Fayed's body also was returned to London today and was buried by his family. The growing romance between the princess and Fayed, the son of a wealthy Egyptian-born businessman, had brought a sparkle to Diana's life in recent weeks, according to newspaper accounts quoting friends of the couple. A spokesman for the Fayed family said Mohamed Fayed, who owns London's Harrods department store and has sought but never received British citizenship, was "devastated" by the loss of his son.

The chauffeur of the Mercedes, like Fayed, died instantly, and one of Diana's bodyguards was injured, but physicians say they expect him to survive. Rescue workers struggled for two hours to remove Diana from the tangled wreckage, according to television reports here today, and after reviving her, French physicians worked urgently to save her life. But she had suffered massive internal injuries and was pronounced dead about 4 a.m. Paris time (10 p.m. EDT) after surgeons were unable to restore her pulse despite two hours of open heart massage.

As news of Diana's death spread in the early morning hours here, people began to gather outside Kensington Palace, where the princess resided, and outside Buckingham Palace, the main residence of the royal family. By midday, streams of people flowed steadily by the gates of both palaces, many depositing bouquets of flowers or single stems in front of the gates.

Many left deeply personal notes of sympathy. "We have lost our beautiful Diana, a shining light," said one. "May God bless her and Dodi." Another said, "Princess Diana, you gave us hope for a better, brighter future." At one point, a little girl, perhaps no older than 3, stepped gingerly forward and left a bright yellow, wounded teddy bear. On one Kensington Palace gate was hung a large, stuffed red heart bearing the message: "I love you this much."

The mourners came individually or as families. Many women came with their daughters or granddaughters, and there were tears and sobs of grief among the stricken mourners. Rosemary Roumayah had traveled 100 miles to Buckingham Palace to pay her respects to the princess. "I feel like she helped me, and I feel like she's a friend," Roumayah said. "I don't feel there will be another woman like her."

Kim Redman praised Diana as someone who touched the lives of ordinary people. "She wasn't apart from everybody else," Redman said. "She was one of everybody. She was real."

Margaret Tyler was wearing a red blazer adorned with a paper rosette that included a photograph of the princess. "I met her five weeks ago at a hospital," Tyler said. "I was wearing my rosette. She laughed and said, `You've got it bad.' " Some mourners compared Diana's death to those of Marilyn Monroe and to John F. Kennedy, both of whom died young and suddenly.

The traditional changing of the guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace went on as usual, but to many visitors the martial music was oddly upbeat and discordant for such a somber occasion. Tonight, a group of mourners conducted a candlelight vigil outside the palace.

Many Britons attended church services today at which prayers were dedicated to the princess and her family. One of the most heavily attended took place at St. Paul's Cathedral, the magnificent domed church in central London at which Diana and Charles were married on July 29, 1981, in the most grandiose royal ceremony here since the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1952. They were divorced a year ago last week.

The royal family attended church services at Balmoral, the royal retreat in Scotland, where Queen Elizabeth and Charles have been vacationing with his and Diana's two sons, Prince William, 15, who is next in the line of succession to the throne after his father, and Prince Harry, 12. Diana's mother, Frances Shand Kydd, was said to be in seclusion at her home in Scotland. Her father, the eighth Earl Spencer, died in 1992.

Charles and the queen were informed of Diana's death early this morning, and it fell to Charles to tell the boys, both of whom have been described as extraordinarily close to their mother. Diana had been scheduled to return to London today and had planned to spend the next several days with her sons before they return to school.

Following church services, Charles departed for Paris from an airport in Aberdeen, Scotland -- joined on the flight by Diana's sisters, Lady Jane Fellowes and Lady Sarah McCorqordale. In Paris, their plane was met by French President Jacques Chirac.

At the Pitie Salpetriere Hospital where Diana died, Charles spoke with doctors and hospital officials, thanking them for their efforts to save the princess's life; then Diana's flag-draped coffin was loaded into a waiting vehicle and taken back to Villacoublay Airfield for the flight to London.

The military aircraft touched down at Northolt air base in northwest London shortly before 7 p.m. (2 p.m. EDT). An eight-member military squadron bore the coffin to the waiting hearse in a solemn, deliberate march, and within 10 minutes the vehicle was bound for the city. Charles spoke briefly with Blair and others, then returned to Balmoral to rejoin his sons after what may have been the most difficult journey of his life.

Out of respect for the princess, the government announced today that it would suspend campaigning on home rule referendums scheduled in both Scotland and Wales, and Blair canceled several other public events scheduled for Monday. At Harrods, officials announced that the famous department store, normally illuminated at night by 10,000 white light bulbs, would remain dark tonight.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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