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CRUMPLED PLANE ON THE LAWN SHATTERS HIGH-TECH ILLUSIONS

What's wrong with this picture?

It's not a bird, it's not Superman on the south lawn of the White house. It's a plane. It's a two-seat Cessna 150 that winged down 17th Street unnoticed, hung a U, headed across the lawn, stripped some bark off a 150-year-old magnolia tree and crashed two stories below the presidential bedroom.What's wrong with this picture?

There on television, John Corder, the brother of Frank Corder who pulled this suicidal stunt - it's hard to know whether the suicide or the stunt was first on his mind - tells a reporter that Frank had always wanted to go out "on top." And, the brother adds matter of factly, without horror or shame, "he did."

What's wrong with this picture?

The president is sitting in the Oval Office saying calmly that "the White House is the people's house and it's the job of every president who lives here to keep it safe and secure." ("It"? Dear Bill: We weren't worrying about the building. You, the wife and the kid could have been tucked in upstairs.)

What a group of snapshots of a late summer's day in the late, late 20th century. They deserve extra room in the photo album of an era.

The plane on the president's lawn, upside down and crumpled, surely presents a chilling portrait of our high-tech illusions. The White House has all the protection that any homeowner could dream of: the sophisticated security system, the sharpshooters, the anti-aircraft guns on the roof. All useless against a stolen single-engine airplane and a despondent single-minded loser.

The pilot dead in his seat presents an equally true profile of the dangerous man. The commies are extinct, the terrorists have focused their attacks on citizens in the air and in the office. But the man who crashed on the White House lawn was the loner, a 38-year-old on a downward spiral who had lost his father, his business, his third marriage, and, it appears, his last hope in the same year.

As for the motive? That too seems almost picture perfect for our time. It's not surprising to read that the man who hit this symbolic target was apolitical. He wasn't out to get the first family. No conspiracy theories will rise from his grave.

He was a convicted drug offender, a man said to have dreams bigger than his wallet. He had a yellow Cadillac in the repair shop and no money to retrieve it. He had alcohol and traces of cocaine in his blood when he aimed for the South Lawn, but he also had a role model: the 19-year-old German who landed a plane in Red Square in 1987. One day a year ago, Frank Corder said to his brother, "The guy made a name for himself."