On December 31, 1996, at 1033 hours Pacific standard time, a Cessna 182P, N9003M, collided with a fence at the approach end of runway 24 at the Fullerton, California, airport during an attempted return to the airport following a loss of engine power during the takeoff initial climb. The aircraft was operated by the pilot and was engaged in a dual instructional flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed in a light mist at the time and an IFR flight plan was filed for the cross-country instrument flight to Santa Barbara, California. The aircraft incurred substantial damage. Neither of the certified flight instructor/commercial pilots onboard were injured. The flight was originating at the time of the accident.

According to both pilots, following receipt of their departure release and takeoff clearance, the aircraft took off and climbed to approximately 500 feet agl when the engine smoothly lost power. The engine power returned briefly, dropped off, surged, and then quit altogether. The pilot flying the aircraft attempted to return to the runway, but had insufficient altitude and collided with a fence at the approach end of runway 24. That pilot reported in his written report that a preflight had been conducted "per the Pilots [sic] operating handbook" and that no abnormalities were found. "Wing tanks were full. I initially drained the wing tanks and found slight trace of water in right tank and no trace in the left tank. The gascolator drain was also drained with only slight trace of water evident. Wings were rocked and drains were double checked . . ."

The aircraft was examined by an FAA airworthiness inspector from the Long Beach, California, Flight Standards District Office. He reported finding the gascolator bowl half full of water and the carburetor bowl completely full of water. No water was found in either fuel tank when the sump drains were checked. The engine was then started and run for a 10-minute period with no abnormalities noted. Additionally, the FAA inspector found that the left tank fuel cap O-ring was deteriorated, with rust and corrosion present below the level of the O-ring.

According to the FAA Inspector, the aircraft is routinely parked outside on the ramp. Heavy periods of rainfall occurred during the week prior to the accident flight.

Review of the aircraft maintenance records disclosed that an annual inspection was completed 1 month and 3 flight hours prior to the accident.

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