One photo appears to show an Osprey half-landed on the flight deck of a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock. The aircraft's landing gear and tail section hang precariously off the deck. A second image shows the Osprey being lifted off the deck via crane. It's not clear from the photos what damage it might have sustained in the landing.
Officials said the "mishap" occurred Wednesday as an Osprey attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166 was landing aboard the USS New Orleans. The ship and aircraft had been off the coast of Camp Pendleton, California, participating in a certification exercise for the 13th MEU ahead of its deployment to the Pacific and Middle East early next year.
The images originally appeared Thursday on the website Reddit. The user who posted the photos explained in the comments that a military contractor friend had taken the pictures on the way to work at Naval Station North Island on San Diego Bay.
The images got further attention when they were re-posted by Ian Keddie, an analyst for the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Reached by Military.com, Keddie said he didn't have primary-source information about the incident.
"I'm sure the [Marine Corps] will have a better explanation once they conduct routine investigations but it looks to have been a near miss and a reminder of how hazardous naval aviation is on a daily basis," he said via email.
A post on the official Facebook page for the 13th MEU did confirm that the ship had returned to San Diego Bay Thursday following the incident.
"The USS New Orleans returned to port today to address this incident," officials wrote in the post. "There will be many rumors, but we ask for your patience as we determine the details surrounding this incident."
Officials with the 13th MEU and Naval Base Coronado did not immediately respond to inquiries from Military.com about the images.