A tourist captured the incident on a cell phone camera from above Emerald Bay on September 13. It shows two Navy MH-60 Romeo helicopters, based out of San Diego, each worth $33 million hovering over the lake and then losing altitude enough to actually go under water for a couple seconds. Both were able to regain altitude and fly away. The helicopters suffered what the military call "Class C damage, which means more than $50,000 but less than $500,000.
The Nevada Appeal newspaper reported Sunday that the helicopters were returning from a cross-country tour. Initially it was reported the helicopters had taken part in an air show in Sacramento and were heading toward Lemoor Naval Air Station to refuel.
Late last week, US Navy officials from the Pentagon told NBC News the incident did not involve a training mission, but that the two helicopter crews were allegedly attempting to take photos of each other’s helicopters with the mountains as a majestic backdrop.
No matter what movtivated the apparently spontaneous pit stop, the Navy refuses to name the pilots or say whether they were supposed to be "hovering." The Navy is saying the whole thing is "under investigation" and that the pilots are grounded until that investigation is complete. According to the San Diego Union Tribune, they could face administrative action and could lose their flying qualifications.
A retired Navy pilot told the San Diego paper he thinks the helicopter crew may have had a legitimate reason to do whatever they were doing. Steve Diamond said if they were hot-dogging they wouldn't do it in view of another aircrew, or over a popular tourist spot.
"It's possible they were troubleshooting a problem," Diamond told the paper. He added it would be easy to make a snap judgment, but cautioned there are other possibilities.
The helicopter involved in the mishap is one of the Navy's newest. It is considered state-of-the-art and usually flies open ocean missions involving anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare.