On March 25, 2000, at 1100 hours Pacific Standard Time a Cessna 172, N7354A, experienced a loss of engine power during takeoff from an off-airport clearing near Corona, California, and subsequently collided with ground obstructions. The airplane sustained substantial damage. The private pilot/owner and his three passengers were not injured. The personal flight was being flown under 14 CFR Part 91 when the accident occurred. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The flight was destined for Santa Ana, California airport and a flight plan was not filed. The airplane had departed from the Goodyear, Arizona, airport approximately 0430 mountain standard time.

The pilot reported that as the flight neared coastal hills near Corona, he encountered a rapidly moving fog bank and made a precautionary landing in the clearing at 0727. The pilot said that from the air the clearing looked rather level, but that it was rough after touchdown. He did a walk-around after landing, and did not specifically look for any engine damage due to the rough terrain. He could see the fog coming in with a low ceiling and did not want to risk going over the mountains in the weather while low on fuel. The pilot stated that he did have enough fuel to continue his flight into Santa Ana airport or Corona airport.

The pilot stated he did obtain a weather briefing from a computer while he was at Goodyear airport, but he did not obtain any in-flight briefings or forecasts once he was airborne, or after he saw the fog moving into his vicinity.

While they were on the ground in the clearing, the pilot's father contacted an individual at a nearby landfill and purchased approximately 18.0 gallons of automotive fuel for the airplane. The pilot said that they did not have a receipt for the fuel purchase. He said that after the fog began to clear he got ready to takeoff from the clearing. He said that he was about 2-3 feet above the ground when the engine suddenly died, like he had pulled back on the throttle. Additionally, he said he heard a "popping noise" but could not determine where that was coming from. The airplane started coming down and the pilot veered to the left to miss a tree, then touched down and bounced about three times, hitting both wings. The airplane came to rest on the left wing and left tire. During conversations with investigators, the pilot commented that he "should have diverted earlier and he would not have been in this position."

During a telephonic conversation with representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration Riverside Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), the pilot said he heard a "pop" and a "bang" during the takeoff from the clearing. He said he thought it may have been a rock hitting the airplane and he throttled back on the engine. He told FSDO investigators that to his knowledge, there was no problem with the engine but he couldn't be sure because he was not looking at his instrument panel when this was going on.

The pilot's father disconnected the battery at the request of the fire department personnel on scene and reportedly drained approximately 18 gallons of fuel from the airplane.

Numerous attempts were made to verify the purchase of fuel at the landfill, but investigators were unable to do so.

On May 23, 2000, the engine was prepped by repairing an oil leak in the oil filter system, due to the contact with the ground during the accident sequence. The engine started normally, three times, and had good throttle response and normal oil pressure. Representatives of Teledyne Continental Motors and the Riverside FSDO witnessed the engine run.

At the completion of the engine run on May 23, 2000, the airplane was released to the insurance company representing the registered owner.

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