Pilot's life was filled with troubles LIGHT PLANE CRASH AT THE WHITE HOUSE

September 13, 1994|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writers Phyllis Brill, Mike Farabaugh, Suzanne Loudermilk, Bruce Reid, Melody Simmons, Charles W. Corddry, and Michael James contributed to this article.

Frank Eugene Corder had a history of drug and alcohol trouble and was despondent over the death of his father and a recent breakup with his wife, according to relatives, court records and the U.S. Secret Service.

The man who died when his Cessna crashed into the White House yesterday was described as a shy, furtive man from Aberdeen -- a truck driver, a one-time born-again Christian, and a student pilot on probation after being arrested late last year outside an East Baltimore motel frequented by prostitutes.

For years, Mr. Corder, 38, was in and out of trouble with the law. Police arrested him for DWI, possession of marijuana, theft, disorderly conduct and destruction of property, court records show.

Searching to explain the crash, relatives said yesterday that Mr. Corder held few political beliefs and never said a harsh word about the president or his policies. In fact, relatives said, Mr. Corder liked the president.

"He said President Clinton was the best thing we had," said Dee George, a cousin from Havre de Grace.

But relatives and others who knew Mr. Corder said he made some unusual references to other impromptu plane landings -- both of which created sensational headlines.

They said he talked about the 1976 crash landing of a small plane into the upper deck of Memorial Stadium after a playoff game between the Baltimore Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers. He also spoke about the teen-age pilot from West Germany who safely landed a small plane in Moscow's Red Square in 1987.

"He said he thought that was really something," said his brother, John, 41.

Still, relatives said they had no idea why Mr. Corder flew to the White House. They said the only enemy he ever had was the bottle. "He never hurt anyone but himself," his brother said.

On Friday, Mr. Corder checked into a one-room efficiency at the plain and modest Keyser's Motel in Aberdeen, where he told motel owner Jackie Keyser that he was down on his luck.

"He was a very nice guy, very well-mannered. But he was very depressed. He didn't have any money," Ms. Keyser said. "He was a loner. I never saw anybody go to his room. The other day he told me, 'I'm separated from my wife and I'm trying to get my life back together.' "

He hung around the motel drinking beer with several of the residents on Sunday, then abruptly said, 'See you later. I'm going to go fly my plane,' " Ms. Keyser said.

Yesterday, when Ms. Keyser went into the room after hearing of his death, "All I found was a lot of empty Heineken beer bottles and a pilot's book," she said.

The son of a Boy Scout troop leader, Frank Corder grew up around planes. He was raised in a modest neighborhood in Aberdeen, where small, two-bedroom bungalows stand in the shadow of the Aberdeen Proving Ground. His father, William, founded a flying club at the proving ground, where he worked as a mechanic for nearly 36 years.

On weekends, he brought his sons down to the hangars, where they got a look at the planes. In their spare time, Frank Corder and his brother built models of their favorite planes.

Airplanes remained Frank Corder's passion. For years, he worked on a 2-seat, fiberglass aircraft in his parents' garage. But he hadn't made much progress on the full-scale plane. Then, about a month ago, he started working on the kit again. He kept his work secret, and refused to let family members see what he was doing, his brother said.

Frank Corder struck out on his own early in life. He dropped out of Aberdeen High School in the 1970s and joined the U.S. Army in 1974. He flunked out of an Army school for mechanics, trained as a cook, and was honorably discharged in 1975 -- nine months after joining, said Maj. Anita Minniefield, an Army spokeswoman.

When he came home, Frank Corder started to drive trucks. About six years ago, he moved to South Carolina, where he took flying lessons and earned his pilot's license. A few years later, he returned to Maryland.

Last year, he started his own firm, Delmarva Freight, in Glen Burnie. But when his father died of cancer last year, Frank Corder took it hard, family members say. He drank heavily. His trucking company failed. And he started to get into trouble with the police.

On Oct. 4, he was arrested by Baltimore police in the parking lot of a hotel on Pulaski Highway, police said. Inside the car, police said, they discovered beer, a bottle of vodka and a small plastic bag of marijuana. They charged him with drug possession, violating the state's open container law and driving with a restricted license. He received a suspended 90-day sentence and 18 months' probation. He was still on probation when he crashed into the White House.

Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said officers were trying to find Frank Corder and they had planned to arrest him for not reporting to his probation officer.

Records show he last reported to his probation officer on July 22.

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