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NTSB Final Report Scalds James “Jim” Clayton “Pilot Failure” Crash Brother Joe Clayton Died in, Feds Say ‘Pilot 2 Passengers Survived 3rd Passenger Drowned’–Videos, Facts, Views Others Lack

“The helicopter pilot [James L. “Jim” Clayton Sr.] was returning to his property located adjacent to a river,” says the opening in the official paragraph by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSF) in the on the helicopter crash that killed his brother, Joseph “Joe” Clayton. The report about the co-founder in 1966 of Clayton Homes mobile and later manufactured housing producer contributing role in that incident continues: “As the helicopter descended toward the water at a 25° angle with low forward airspeed, the pilot applied power to arrest the descent. However, the helicopter continued to descend until it impacted the river short of the intended landing area. The pilot and two passengers survived the impact and a third passenger drowned.”  “On August 3, 2020, Clayton, along with his brother Joe, Clayton Holdings VP Flynt Griffin, and developer John McBride, were onboard Clayton’s Eurocopter EC130 when it crashed into the Tennessee River near the Sequoyah Hills neighborhood of Knoxville around 7:45 p.m.[7]” says Wikipedia.

Wikipedia goes on to state: “[Jim] Clayton, Griffin, and McBride resurfaced soon after the crash near to the wreckage, and were rescued by a nearby pontoon boat. Joe Clayton’s body around 9:30 p.m, was recovered next to the wreckage of the helicopter and was pronounced dead on arrival.[8]

“NTSB Report: Jim Clayton took wrong action as pilot before deadly crash” said WATE 6, an ABC affiliate.


Wikipedia describes the NTSB as: “The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent U.S. government investigative agency responsible for civil transportation accident investigation.”

NTSB’s final report said: “The investigation revealed no preimpact mechanical malfunctions or anomalies that would have prevented the normal operation of the helicopter. Recovered flight data indicated the engine was producing power at the time of impact. Weather reports and statements from the pilot and witnesses indicated that the helicopter descended steeply with little forward airspeed and a tailwind of about 5 knots, which is a flight profile conducive to vortex ring state. The pilot’s reported lack of collective authority when increasing power to arrest the helicopter’s descent is also consistent with the helicopter entering vortex ring state. A pilot’s failure to monitor altitude, airspeed, and rate of descent during an approach can result in a flight profile conducive to vortex ring state.”

After that “analysis” summary subheading, the NTSB said the following.


Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

The pilot’s entry into vortex ring state and his inability to arrest the helicopter’s descent while maneuvering for landing.


Aircraft Descent rate – Not attained/maintained
Personnel issues Incorrect action performance – Pilot
Personnel issues Aircraft control – Pilot

WATE TV said: “Joe Clayton, 84, drowned as a result of the crash.” They added that “The family is reviewing the NTSB report and has no comment at the present time,” a Clayton family representative said in a statement.

Factual Information

History of Flight

Approach Settling with power/vortex ring state (Defining event)
Approach Collision with terr/obj (non-CFIT)

On August 3, 2020, at 1941 eastern daylight time, an Airbus EC130-B4 helicopter, N55GJ, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Knoxville, Tennessee. One passenger was fatally injured, and the pilot and two additional passengers were not injured. The helicopter was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

After refueling the helicopter, the pilot and his passengers departed McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS), Knoxville, Tennessee, about 1826 for a flight in the local area. About 1940 the pilot made a right circling approach over the Tennessee River toward a landing site on his property near the river’s edge. He stated that he “was descending with low power and a 25° angle of descent, slowing to come to a hover at low speed over the water.” He further stated that he was planning to hover taxi to the landing site at a height about 75 feet above the water and that when he added power to arrest the descent, the helicopter “started to settle.” He stated he “pulled max power to stop the settling,” but it was as if the helicopter “didn’t have any power” and it continued to descend until it impacted the river.

A witness on the neighboring property reported that the helicopter “came from the south and kind of hovered over the water pretty low.” She stated that it hovered longer than usual before tilting toward the south and descending into the water.

A passenger stated that when the helicopter descended toward the water in a level attitude, the left “skid hit and then rotor hit” and the helicopter was “torqued into the water on the left side.” The pilot and two of the passengers were able to egress the helicopter before it sank; however, one passenger was unable to egress and was subsequently recovered by first responders.

A pilot who had previously flown with the accident pilot reported that he spoke to the accident pilot the morning after the accident. He stated that the accident pilot recalled he was making a steep approach and he “came in vertically with little-to-no airspeed,” estimating that his descent rate was greater than 300 feet per minute.

Pilot Information

Certificate: Airline transport; Private Age: 86,Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine land; Multi-engine land Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): Glider; Helicopter Restraint Used: 4-point
Instrument Rating(s): Airplane Second Pilot Present: Yes
Instructor Rating(s): None Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: Class 3 Waiver time limited special Last FAA Medical Exam: May 4, 2019
Occupational Pilot: No Last Flight Review or Equivalent: January 24, 2020
Flight Time: (Estimated) 12600 hours (Total, all aircraft), 300 hours (Total, this make and model), 10000 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 5 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 5 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft), 2 hours (Last 24 hours, all aircraft)

Pilot-rated passenger Information

Certificate: Private Age: 84,Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine land; Multi-engine land Seat Occupied: Center
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None Restraint Used: 4-point
Instrument Rating(s): Airplane Second Pilot Present: Yes
Instructor Rating(s): None Toxicology Performed: Yes
Medical Certification: Last FAA Medical Exam:
Occupational Pilot: No Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time:

Passenger Information

Certificate: Age: Male
Airplane Rating(s): Seat Occupied: Right
Other Aircraft Rating(s): Restraint Used: 4-point
Instrument Rating(s): Second Pilot Present: Yes
Instructor Rating(s): Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: Last FAA Medical Exam:
Occupational Pilot: No Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time:

Passenger Information

Certificate: Age: Male
Airplane Rating(s): Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): Restraint Used: 4-point
Instrument Rating(s): Second Pilot Present: Yes
Instructor Rating(s): Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: Last FAA Medical Exam:
Occupational Pilot: No Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time:

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Eurocopter Registration: N55GJ
Model/Series: EC130 B4 Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Year of Manufacture: 2003 Amateur Built:
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal Serial Number: 3745
Landing Gear Type: Skid Seats: 6
Date/Type of Last Inspection: October 14, 2019 Annual Certified Max Gross Wt.: 5350 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection: Engines: 1 Turbo shaft
Airframe Total Time: 2012 Hrs at time of accident Engine Manufacturer: Turbomeca
ELT: C126 installed, not activated Engine Model/Series: Arriel 2B1
Registered Owner: Rated Power: 747 Horsepower
Operator: On file Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

According to the helicopter’s flight manual, and the helicopter’s weight and balance chart, the helicopter’s gross weight at the time of the accident would have been about 4,440.2 lbs. The limitations section of the helicopter’s flight manual indicated a maximum gross weight of 5,350 lbs. The longitudinal and lateral CG locations were within flight manual limits.

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual (VMC) Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: TYS,979 ft msl Distance from Accident Site: 8 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 19:53 Local Direction from Accident Site: 193°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Few / 4000 ft AGL Visibility 10 miles
Lowest Ceiling: Broken / 25000 ft AGL Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 5 knots / Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: None / None
Wind Direction: 80° Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: N/A / N/A
Altimeter Setting: 29.9 inches Hg Temperature/Dew Point: 27°C / 20°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Knoxville, TN (TYS ) Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Knoxville, TN Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 18:20 Local Type of Airspace: Class G

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 None Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 Fatal, 2 None Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal, 3 None Latitude, Longitude: 35.945278,-83.95639(est)

Examination of the accident site by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector revealed that the helicopter came to rest on the bottom of the Tennessee River about 435 ft and 149° from the intended landing site on the pilot’s property. The helicopter’s fenestron was recovered floating nearby.

The helicopter was recovered from the river mostly intact. Examination of the wreckage revealed a large hole in the left side windshield; the left door window broken out; damage to all rotor blades consistent with water impact; and two of the four suspension bars fractured midspan. The tailboom remained attached to the fuselage, and the fenestron separated from the tailboom just aft of the ring frame.

Examination of the airframe and flight control system components revealed no evidence of a pre-impact failure or mechanical malfunction that would have precluded normal operation, and the pilot reported that there were no mechanical malfunctions or failures prior to the accident sequence.

The helicopter was equipped with a vehicle and engine monitoring display and a digital engine control unit that stored records of failure messages associated with engine operations. The data revealed no failures or limit exceedances prior to impact and indicated the engine was running at the time of impact. All failure indications occurred around the time of impact. No preimpact anomalies were noted with the engine that would have precluded the normal production of power.


Additional Information

Vortex Ring State

According to the FAA’s Helicopter Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-21B), vortex ring state, formerly referenced as settling-with-power, “describes an aerodynamic condition in which a helicopter may be in a vertical descent with 20 percent up to maximum power applied, and little or no climb performance:

Situations that are conducive to a vortex ring state condition are attempting to hover out of ground effect (OGE) without maintaining precise altitude control, and approaches, especially steep approaches, with a tailwind component.

The following combination of conditions is likely to cause settling in a vortex ring state in any helicopter:

A vertical or nearly vertical descent of at least 300 fpm. (Actual critical rate depends on the gross weight, rpm, density altitude, and other pertinent factors.)

The rotor disk must be using some of the available engine power (20–100 percent).

The horizontal velocity must be slower than effective translational lift.

When recovering from a vortex ring state condition, the pilot tends first to try to stop the descent by increasing collective pitch. The traditional recovery is accomplished by increasing airspeed, and/or partially lowering collective to exit the vortex. In most helicopters, lateral cyclic thrust combined with an increase in power and lateral antitorque thrust will produce the quickest exit from the hazard.”

According to the FAA’s Helicopter Flying Handbook, hovering more than one main disc (rotor) diameter above the surface is considered hovering OGE. The accident helicopter rotor diameter was 35 ft 1 in.


Administrative Information

Investigator In Charge (IIC): Spencer, Lynn
Additional Participating Persons: Jim Ruckman; FAA/FSDO; Nashville, TN

Marion Watremez; BEA; Le Bourget

Seth D Buttner; Airbus Helicopters Inc; Grand Prairie, TX

Bryan Larimore; Safran Helicopter Engines; Grand Prairie, TX

Original Publish Date: June 28, 2022   Investigation Class: 3
Note: The NTSB did not travel to the scene of this accident.


The full final report and analysis by the NTSB is linked here.

The NTSB’s “factual” report, which they say can be used in civil actions that may arise from this case, are linked here.


Mainstream News Video Collection

For serious researchers or the merely curious, the news videos available on YouTube on this date span from post-accident in August 2020 to various updates since and the more recent video posted further above.  A baker’s dozen of such video reports follow.

According to WBIR Channel 10 – NBC Affiliate, “Investigation grows into chopper crash that killed businessman Joe Clayton.”

WBIR Channel 10 – NBC Affiliate said: “NTSB releases final findings in 2020 helicopter crash that killed Knoxville businessman Joe Clayton.”

NTSB releases final findings in 2020 helicopter crash that killed Knoxville businessman Joe Clayton

The NTSB report said the pilot, Jim Clayton, was unable to recover from a hazardous state that caused the helicopter to descend steeply and crash.More storie…


“New details on TN River helicopter crash that killed Knoxville businessman Joe Clayton” according to WBIR Channel 10 – NBC Affiliate.

New details on TN River helicopter crash that killed Knoxville businessman Joe Clayton

The NTSB report says the pilot was planning to hover about 75 feet off the water and then land on the riverbank, but as the pilot throttled up slightly, the …


“One year later: Helicopter crash kills Joe Clayton, prominent Knoxville businessman,” per WBIR Channel 10 – NBC Affiliate.

One year later: Helicopter crash kills Joe Clayton, prominent Knoxville businessman

It has been one year since a helicopter crashed into the Tennessee River, killing Knoxville businessman Joe Clayton.


“TN River helicopter crash survivors identified,” said WBIR Channel 10 – NBC Affiliate.

TN River helicopter crash survivors identified

A Knoxville police incident report lists the survivors as Jim Clayton, John McBride and Flynt Griffin. The report does not list the name of the man who died.


“Remembering Businessman Joe Clayton,” according to WBIR Channel 10 – NBC Affiliate.

Remembering Businessman Joe Clayton

Joe Clayton was a prominent businessman here in East Tennessee. He and his brother Jim were business partners and lifelong friends.


WVLT-TV 8, a CBS affiliate said shortly after the accident: “WVLT Original: Cofounder of Clayton Homes dies in Tennessee River helicopter crash.”

WVLT Original: Cofounder of Clayton Homes dies in Tennessee River helicopter crash.

Joe Clayton, the cofounder of Clayton Automobiles and Clayton Homes, died in Monday night’s helicopter crash in the Tennessee River. His brother James (Jim) …

“Clayton Homes co-founder ID’d as victim in helicopter crash” posted on Aug 4, 2020 by WATE 6.

TN River helicopter crash survivors identified

A Knoxville police incident report lists the survivors as Jim Clayton, John McBride and Flynt Griffin. The report does not list the name of the man who died.

“Funeral arrangements set for Joe Clayton” said WBIR Channel 10, an NBC affiliate.

Funeral arrangements set for Joe Clayton

The prominent Knoxville businessman died after a helicopter crash in the Tennessee River last Monday.

911 Calls are included in this video: “Details emerging in helicopter crash.”


Note the NTSB report clears up the question asked in the video above if this was a takeoff or landing incident.

WATE 6 posted this video report on Aug 5, 2020 “Helicopter pulled from Tennessee River.”

A fire department report on the tragedy is posed below. Knoxville Fire Department gives update on helicopter crash on Aug 3, 2020.

Knoxville Fire Department gives update on helicopter crash

The Knoxville Fire Department gives an update on a helicopter crash after 3 people escaped. One person was still reported missing.

The original NTSB Report is covered in the video below.

Prior reports, maps, stills and other illustrations dating back to the crash are found in the report linked below. May the souls of all the faithfully departed rest in peace. ##



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Our son has grown quite a bit since this 12.2019 photo. All on Capitol Hill were welcoming and interested in our manufactured housing industry related concerns. But Congressman Al Green’s office was tremendous in their hospitality. Our son’s hand is on a package that included the Constitution of the United States, bottled water, and other goodies.

By L.A. “Tony” Kovach – for MHProNews.com.

Tony earned a journalism scholarship and earned numerous awards in history and in manufactured housing.

For example, he earned the prestigious Lottinville Award in history from the University of Oklahoma, where he studied history and business management. He’s a managing member and co-founder of LifeStyle Factory Homes, LLC, the parent company to MHProNews, and MHLivingNews.com.

This article reflects the LLC’s and/or the writer’s position, and may or may not reflect the views of sponsors or supporters.


Connect on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/latonykovach


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