A light plane piloted by a Maryland truck driver pierced the restricted zone around the White House early Monday and crashed just short of the presidential mansion. The pilot was killed.
President Clinton and his family were staying at Blair House across the street at the time and were unharmed.Security forces launched a furious 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, 39, a truck driver in the freight division at Baltimore Washington International Airport.
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.
Despite elaborate security precautions, the small red-and-white Cessna two-seater apparently flew unchallenged onto the White House grounds. The plane flew near the Washington Monument about 2 a.m. and made a left-hand turn toward the White House, said Adolphus Roberts, an eyewitness.
Roberts said that it didn't sound like the plane's engine was running and no lights were on except those at the tips of each wing. "It just kept coming down and falling. Then it disappeared between two trees. I heard a large boom. There was no fire, no nothing."
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 Secret Service apparently did not fire on the plane.
The Clintons were staying at Blair House because of renovations at the White House. The president was awakened and notified of the crash by chief of staff Leon Panetta about half an hour after it happened, aides said.
Spurred by the intrusion, the Secret Service spearheaded an interagency review of security precautions.
Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen said he had directed the Secret Service "to provide me with a full report on this matter."
White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers said Clinton "has great confidence in the Secret Service, in the job they do, in their professionalism and their thoroughness."
When the plane crashed, "it tumbled and came to rest against the building, no flame, no fireball," said White House spokesman Arthur Jones.
The plane tore into the grass of the South Lawn about 50 feet from the White House, leaving deep gouge marks, then smashed through a large magnolia tree before coming to rest against the wall of the White House.
It sheared off some branches of the tree, which was planted during Andrew Jackson's presidency, from 1829 to 1837. Some debris remained in the tree.
Firefighters rushed to the White House and washed the area down to clean up spilled fuel.
As of midmorning, there was still firefighting equipment outside the White House. The tiny plane was crumpled, with the tail section broken off. Jagged metal and wires were strewn everywhere. There was little damage to the White House, except for fresh scrapes and small gashes apparently caused by flying debris.
The pilot took off from a Maryland airport about two hours before the crash, according to Washington television station WUSA. Sources said the plane was not picked up on National Airport's radar because it was flying too low.
The owners of the Harford County Air Park say there is minimal security at the airfield, which is owned by a group of about 35 people. The Cessna had been tethered near the end of a row of single-engine planes far from the road.
Clinton was notified of the incident by a White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta about half an hour after the crash and visited the site after dawn, clad in jogging attire.