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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pilot Flies Plane to Fatal Crash at White House

WASHINGTON -- A small plane flew unchallenged onto the White House grounds early Monday, crashed on the South Lawn and crumpled against the mansion two floors below President Clinton's private quarters. The first family was across the street, sleeping in a government guest house.


The pilot was killed when the Cessna trainer tore into the grass of the South Lawn about 50 feet from the White House, then smashed through a large 150-year-old magnolia tree before skidding against the wall of the White House.


The impact broke a window in the White House physician's office and left gouge marks in the outside wall of the presidential mansion, two floors below Clinton's private quarters. White House staff and security guards were not injured.


Security forces launched an investigation that quickly centered on a small airfield in Harford County north of Baltimore, where a small plane matching the identity of the one that crashed was reported stolen. Interviewing people at the Harford airport, the Secret Service identified the pilot as Frank Corder.


Corder's brother, John, told the AP that family members were in Washington to identify the body. Corder said his brother had never been in any trouble with authorities and has no strong political beliefs. Corder and his wife of 10 years separated three weeks ago, the brother said.


"It came as a real surprise," he said.


A Baltimore television station said Corder, 39, was a truck driver in the freight division at Baltimore Washington International Airport.


A senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested the pilot had a history of mental problems. This was disputed, however, by the brother.


A Secret Service spokesman said there were no related threats against the president prior to the wreck.


Despite elaborate security precautions around the presidential mansion, the red-and-white Cessna 172 aircraft apparently flew unchallenged onto the White House grounds.


The plane flew down over the Mall and made a left-hand turn toward the White House complex, said Adolphus Roberts, an eyewitness.


"It had lights on both wings, it turned left and lined up with the White House," Roberts said. "I heard a large boom sound. There was no fire, no nothing."


When the plane crashed, "it tumbled and came to rest against the building, no flame, no fireball," said Jones, who described the aircraft as being "just rolled up into a ball."


The plane hit a large, old magnolia tree just west of the columned South Portico and sheared off some branches, coming to rest at the foot of the building.


One official said 14 seconds elapsed from the time between the first notice that a plane was in the restricted area and the crash.


The body of the pilot was removed from the wreckage and turned over to the D.C. medical examiner's office. An autopsy was planned later Monday. As a precaution, a bomb squad combed the wreckage but found no explosives.


Clad in jogging attire, Clinton inspected the crash site. The White House said the president would go ahead with his regular schedule, which included an afternoon ceremony on the South Lawn.


The incident was sure to rekindle a longstanding debate about whether a president can be adequately protected in downtown Washington.


Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen said the Secret Service was investigating the incident and that he had directed the agency "to provide me with a full report on this matter."


He added, "We are always concerned when the issue of the president's safety is involved, but it is too early to come to any conclusions. We are grateful that the president and his family were not endangered."


A window was broken by debris. There were no injuries among security forces that guard the White House round the clock. Damage was minimal, Jones said.


Transportation Secretary Federico Pena inspected the crash site and said there was no structural damage to the White House. He said the plane was "substantially wrecked."


He added, "This airspace is restricted and is under constant surveillance."


The restricted area in Washington bans flights over the White House and associated executive office buildings and includes the area extending roughly from the Lincoln Memorial to just east of the Capitol.


Secret Service sharpshooters are stationed on the roof of the White House during daylight hours. Security forces have been reported to be equipped with shoulder-fired Stinger missiles.