WASHINGTON, Sept. 12 -- A full-scale investigation was ordered Monday into how and why a single-engine plane penetrated restricted air space over the White House early in the morning and crashed onto the south lawn, although a Secret Service spokesman said it appeared not to be aimed at the president. The remarkable incident, in which a pilot described as having a history of mental problems flew a stolen Cessna airplane into the heavily guarded compound, prompted an extensive review of the procedures used to protect the president. The pilot, identified as 38-year-old Frank Corder, died when the plane crashed near the executive mansion. Although damage to the White House was minimal and the president and his family were never in danger as they slept across the street at the Blair House, officials refused to speculate how such an extraordinary occurrence could have taken place. 'That's precisely the kind of question I can't answer,' said Ronald Noble, the undersecretary of the Treasury for enforcement, citing continuing security concerns for the first family. Clinton, speaking at an afternoon ceremony that was moved to the north lawn because of wreckage littering the south lawn, vowed the White House would be kept secure. 'Let me assure all Americans: the people's house will be kept safe, it will be kept open and the people's business will go on,' he said. At a White House briefing, officials said Corder, a white male with no fixed address or job, had been treated for alcoholism and had a criminal record, although they declined to more specific.
Corder, they said, appeared to have died from injuries sustained when he crash landed, though an autopsy was pending. White House officials earlier said the pilot had been decapitated. Carl Meyer, a special agent for the Secret Service, said the flight by Corder did not seem at first to have been an attack on the president. 'It does not appear to be directed towards the Clintons,' he said. Security, however, was markedly increased in the wake of the incident, though White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers said Clinton remained confident in his protection provided by the Secret Service. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, who oversees the service, ordered Noble to undertake a 90-day review of the security for Clinton and his family, which will parallel the sweeping probe of the crash by the Secret Service, the FBI, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board and the District of Columbia police force. Acknowledging that security at the White House was less when the president was not in residence, Meyer said the red-and-white Cessna 150 was not spotted by security personnel until 'it was coming in' and they had no time to do anything but 'run for cover.' But he maintained that immediately after the 1:49 a.m. EDT crash, they sprang into action with an extensive search of the wreckage for explosives or hazardous devices, including weapons. None were found, and no shots were fired on the plane. Fuel was spilled during the crash, but there was no fire upon impact. The officials declined to discuss how Corder, in a plane apparently stolen from the Churchville-Harford County Airport in northern Maryland, was able to make an unobstructed approach into the restricted flight area around the White House -- an area under constant surveillance. It was not the first time, however, that an aircraft landed on the White House grounds. In 1974, an Army private, who stole a helicopter from a nearby military base, landed the aircraft on the south lawn. Clinton had attended church services Sunday at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds -- near the airport from which the Corder's ill-fated Cessna plane was stolen -- hours before Clinton's chief of staff awoke the president with news of the crash at 2:35 a.m. Monday. Clinton and his family were at the presidential guest house, across from the White House, during renovations at the executive mansion. Meyer said officials already were 'looking into' whether Corder had had any contact with Clinton on Sunday. It was not until mid-afternoon Monday that the president spoke publicly of the incident, at a ceremony to launch the Americorps national service program that was originally scheduled to take place on the south lawn. 'An investigation is taking place that will determine how and why this happened,' Clinton said. 'We take this incident seriously because 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.' Meyer said there was no radar alert of the plane's approach because it came in 'almost at treetop' level. It hit just short of the south portico wall near the White House physician's office, tearing gashes in the lawn and breaking a branch off the so-called Andrew Jackson tree, a magnolia planted in 1837. One window in the residence was also cracked. Corder apparently was treated for alcoholism at a Veteran's Administration center in Harford County, Md., which is near the Delaware border. Meyer said officials were in the process of 'developing information' regarding his mental condition.
Transportation Secretary Federico Pena said the crash was under investigation, and the Secret Service and FBI were not yet prepared to divulge further information. 'This is a matter of national security,' Pena said. 'Until the investigation is completed, we will not be able to determine whether it was intentional or whether it was an accident,' Pena told United Press International. White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers said only that no shots had been fired at the plane by security personnel and there was no fire upon impact although a good deal of fuel was spread around the site. The body was removed from the plane at about 4:45 a.m. (0845 GMT) and some of the wreckage was taken by truck to a nearby Air Force base, Myers said. Some 100 policemen, firemen, Secret Service agents and investigators from the FBI, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board spent most of the morning examining the crash site. Security was markedly increased in the wake of the incident, with the main streets around the White House closed off to the public. Myers, however, said Clinton remained confident in his protective services provided by the Secret Service though the entire incident was under investigation. 'All these things are being looked into,' she told reporters. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, who oversees the service, demanded a full review, a spokesman said. Clinton was called around 2:35 a.m. (0635 GMT) by chief of staff Leon Panetta to alert him to the incident. A military aide who sleeps in the White House each night was the first person to arrive at the scene. The plane hit just short of the south portico wall, near the White House physician's office, but there was no significant damage to the building. A bush was knocked over as the Cessna slid in. The fuselage was crumpled and twisted, with some pieces scattered across the lawn. The plane also broke a branch off the so-called Andrew Jackson tree, a magnolia planted in 1837 and one window in the residence was cracked. The crash, however, did not prevent Clinton from proceeding with plans to host an afternoon ceremony inaugurating the AmeriCorps national service program, the president's domestic peace corps. Earlier, a 75-member bomb squad was summoned to the area out of fears the plane may have been carrying explosives. It was not, Myers said. Adolphus Roberts, who witnessed the crash from a hill on the Mall about two blocks from the White House, said the plane came in at a smooth glide apparently with its engine off. He said he heard a boom and minutes later a hoard of emergency vehicles surrounded the White House.