Annie Flanzraich
Nevada Appeal News Service

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December 23, 2010
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Navy official: Facebook photos motivated Tahoe helicopter dip

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. - The crew of two naval helicopters that dipped into Lake Tahoe in September were hovering close to the water at Emerald Bay to get photos for their command's Facebook page, according to a Navy official.

No punitive actions will be taken against the aircrew and squadron, a Navy investigation concluded, but administrative measures are in progress to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Two unidentified Navy pilots were on the return leg of a cross-country tour on Sept. 13 when they attempted to maneuver their MH-60 Romeo helicopters into a hover a few feet above the water in Emerald Bay, according to the investigation. The aircraft did not have sufficient power to sustain the hover and slowly descended into the lake before summoning enough power to regain altitude and land at nearby Lake Tahoe Airport.

The incident was recorded and posted on YouTube.

"The investigation found that the mishap was entirely preventable had the aircrew followed required directives for conducting cross-country flights and applied more vigilant operational risk management," according to a Navy release.

The cost of repairs for both aircraft totaled $505,751.20.

"The investigation identified the decision of the aircraft commanders to conduct hovers over Lake Tahoe without completing the necessary engine performance calculations as the causal factor for the mishap," according to the same release. "The report also identified several contributing factors, including the aircrew's complacency, lack of flight discipline and lack of command oversight in planning and executing cross-country flights."

The investigation also made recommendations for training and procedures to prevent similar incidents, said Lt. Aaron Kakiel, media officer for the Naval Air Forces command at North Island in San Diego.

The Maritime Strike Helicopter Squadron (HSM) 41 will review the way pilots and aircrew are trained, specifically to identify training events that are compatible with cross-country flights, Kakiel said.

The September incident stemmed from "a desire from the people in the aircraft to get photos for their command's Facebook page," Kakiel said.

"That's why they were trying to go into the hover where they were," he said.

Members of the squadron went to a field naval aviator evaluation board, the results of which are not available for release Kakiel said.

However, according to the San Diego Union Tribune, because of the incident two Navy instructor pilots were stripped of flying status and two student pilots will have to repeat training.

According to www.signon" target="_blank">class="NormalParagraphStyle"> "the loss of flight status as a pilot means he or she will have to seek a non-flying job in the Navy. With tight competition among naval officers for job slots, this action could be career-ending."

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Dec 23, 2010 02:34AM Published Dec 23, 2010 02:32AM Copyright 2010 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.