Pilot wanted to end it all in style: Frank Corder always talked of a White House crash. His family thought he was joking

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The Independent Online
FRANK CORDER had talked to friends about going out in style by crash-landing an aeroplane in the grounds of the White House, but no one took him seriously. So on Monday he did it, and the whole country paid attention. He had been drinking heavily and was possibly under the influence of other drugs, a senator briefed by investigators said yesterday.

His last journey was simply the fulfilment of that fantasy, inspired by the 1987 landing of a small aircraft in Red Square by Mathias Rust. What it was not - at least as far as friends and relatives can guess - was an attempt on the lives of President Clinton and his family.

It was a brother, John, who best remembered the remarks about suicide and the Rust exploit. 'He said, 'If I'm going to check out, that's the way I'm going to do it. I'm going to crash a plane into the White House'. We all thought it was a joke.'

That Corder, 38, was driven to suicide has surprised no one. In the past year almost every part of his life had come apart. A trucking business he owned had failed, he had been profoundly upset by his father's death last year, and his 10-year marriage was disintegrating.

He also had repeated alcohol and drug problems and last year he spent a week in a hospital, where his wife worked as a nurse, undergoing an alcohol detoxification programme. He had had many drinking-related brushes with the law and was on probation when he died. 'When he goes in the dumps, he'd crawl in the bottle,' the brother told reporters.

A cousin, Dee George, meanwhile confirmed his suicidal tendency. 'Frank has been down on drugs and alcohol before,' she said. 'He told me that sometimes . . . he just wished he had a gun.'

There was also a yearning for better things and fame. Friends said Corder would share wild dreams about fortune and notoriety, including an ambition to run an airline. Joseph Kessler, manager of the airfield from which the Cessna was stolen, said: 'He had that champagne taste with a Pepsi-Cola wallet.'

His interest had been nurtured by his father, who was a small-aircraft mechanic. Although Corder had hoped to gain a flying licence, the lessons he had been receiving stopped because of his abuse problems.

Questions were still being asked in Washington, meanwhile, over how Corder was able to penetrate the air space around the White House so easily. There were reports that the small aircraft was spotted on radar by air traffic controllers at nearby National Airport, but that no one had alerted the Secret Service.

Carl Meyer, of the Secret Service, said agents knew nothing about the aircraft until they saw it descending towards the White House. 'We just didn't have a good sense what was involved here. Or, was it a diversion, was something going to come?'

(Photograph omitted)