SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. —Military officials say an investigation is under way after two U.S. Navy helicopters dipped temporarily into the waters of Lake Tahoe, before righting themselves and landing at a nearby airport.
San Diego-based Naval Air Forces media officer Lt. Aaron Kakiel said a YouTube video filmed by tourists represents authentic footage of the Sept. 13 incident, the Nevada Appeal reported.
Kakiel said two pilots were returning from a cross-country tour when they attempted a hover maneuver with MH-60 Romeo helicopters a few feet above the water in Emerald Bay.
The aircraft had insufficient power to sustain the hover and slowly descended into the water, he said. Both were able to regain altitude and land.
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The helicopters suffered some damage, but no one was injured and no fuel leaked into the lake, Kakiel said.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Navy wouldn't identify the pilots or say whether the helicopters were supposed to be hovering over Lake Tahoe. The Navy did, however, say the entire Sept. 13 flight is under investigation.
Kakiel said the pilots are grounded until the Navy wraps up an aviation mishap board investigation. They could face administrative action and could lose their flying qualifications, the Union-Tribune reported.
The helicopters — each worth $33 million, according to a Navy website — were repaired at the Lake Tahoe airport and returned to San Diego on Sept. 16. Kakiel said the Navy has classified the incident as a "Class C Mishap," meaning the damages were between $50,000 and $500,000.
A different set of pilots flew the aircraft home, Kakiel said.
Retired Navy jet pilot Steve Diamond told the Union-Tribune he thinks the helicopter crew may have had a legitimate reason to be hovering over Lake Tahoe. Someone out hot-dogging probably wouldn't do it in view of another air crew, or over a popular tourist destination, he said.
"It's possible they were troubleshooting a problem," said Diamond, who retired in 2002. "It's easy to make a snap judgment, but there are other possibilities."