It's a 20-second, jaw-dropping clip of cell phone video that could ultimately cost two Navy helicopter pilots their flying privileges. It happened two weeks ago at Lake Tahoe and caught sightseers by surprise as they looked over the lake.
"Oh my gosh," a gasping voice is heard saying on the video. Another person said, "they're totally practicing aren't they?"
An official at NAS North Island in San Diego confirmed the authenticity of the video that shows two $33 million MH-60 Romeo helicopters flying over Lake Tahoe on Sept. 13. One of the helicopters appears to come dangerously close to the water before the pilot is able to regain altitude.
US Navy officials from the Pentagon told NBC News this was not a training mission, but that the two helicopter crews were allegedly attempting to take photos of each other’s helicopters hovering just above the waters of Lake Tahoe with the mountains as a majestic backdrop when their photo op went horribly wrong.
Navy officials say the pilots had attempted to go into a routine "hover" but because of the altitude of Lake Tahoe and the weight of the aircraft, the chopper descended and partially submerged before both pilots increased power, pulled the choppers out of the water and averted a disaster.
The helicopters are from North Island's Helicopter Maritime Strike 41 squadron.
"An aviation mishap board has been convened," according to a North Island spokesman.
The spokesperson says the helicopters sustained 'minor damage' and the incident has been classified as a 'Class C' mishap, meaning damage is more than $50,000 but less than $500,000.
The helicopters had taken part in an air show in Sacramento and were heading toward Lemoor Naval Air Station to refuel, according to the spokesperson.
After the incident, the helicopters were taken to the Lake Tahoe Airport for repair. The pilots were flown back to San Diego on a commercial flight. They have both been temporarily grounded pending an investigation.
Lake Tahoe is not a normal training area for the helicopters. The investigation will determine whether the flight over the lake was consistent with the normal flight pattern and flight plan provided by the pilots.
The names of the pilots have not been released. The spokesperson would also not say how long the pilots have been with the Navy.
It’s not known how many people were on board the helicopters at the time of the incident. Normally, there are two pilots and one air crewman on board.