This February 2008 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.
Aircraft: Piper Cherokee. Injuries: 1 Serious. Location: Spring, Texas. Aircraft damage: Substantial.
What reportedly happened: The airplane was kept outside on the ramp. The pilot reported performing a normal pre-flight inspection, which included checking all fuel tanks for the presence of water. The fuel selector was drained for approximately 10 seconds. The pilot did not recall a significant amount of water being found in the tanks and did not collect the fuel drained from the fuel selector.
While on climb out from the airport, the pilot experienced a total loss of engine power. An attempt to restart the engine was unsuccessful. The airplane crashed in an open field. The pilot was not wearing a shoulder harness because the airplane was not equipped with them.
An examination of the airframe and engine determined that water had been allowed to enter and settle in the fuel system for an extended period of time. This resulted in the build up of rust in the fuel selector sump, the fuel selector screen, and the carburetor bowl. The fuel selector sump contained fuel, which through the use of water detection paste, was confirmed to be contaminated with water. Fuel system contamination resulted in a loss of engine power.
Probable cause: Failure of the pilot to ensure that the fuel system was purged of water prior to flight. Contributing to the severity of injuries was the lack of shoulder restraints.
For more information: NTSB.gov