Federal investigators are looking into a fatal helicopter crash that killed a Knoxville, Tennessee, millionaire businessman and philanthropist just yards in front of his home Aug. 3.

Joe Clayton, owner of Clayton Used Cars in Knoxville and other businesses, died when the Eurocopter EC-130 helicopter crashed into the Fort Loudoun Lake reservoir in the Tennessee River about 7:40 p.m. Mr. Clayton’s older brother, Jim, also a successful local businessman, his grandson Flynt Griffin, and another person identified as Jay McBride escaped from the sunken helicopter without serious injury.

Neighbors who saw the helicopter crash into the river in front of the Clayton home rushed to help the survivors, throwing them life jackets and pulling them aboard the vessel.

Rescue teams sent to the crash site had to use sonar to locate the helicopter wreckage, which was submerged in about 30 feet of murky water. Joe Clayton’s body was recovered from the aircraft a couple hours after the crash. Crews pulled the submerged helicopter from the river on Wednesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will investigate the crash, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no NTSB officials were sent to the site. The wreckage will be taken to a secure facility where investigators will try to piece together what happened. The NTSB will also interview the survivors and witnesses and work with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to get a picture of what went wrong.

As of Thursday authorities didn’t say who was piloting the helicopter. Knoxville’s WBIR 10 News reported that the helicopter is registered to CFA Holdings Inc. at a Knoxville address that has ties to Clayton interests.

According to WBIR, Jim Clayton is “a longtime pilot, having flown fixed wing aircraft for many decades as well as helicopters.”

Jim and Joe Clayton started Clayton Homes in 1966. The company grew to become the largest producer and seller of manufactured housing in the U.S. before Warren Buffet folded the company into his holdings group under Berkshire Hathaway in 2003.

Jim and Joe Clayton have led several philanthropic efforts over the decades. The family is an active supporter of the arts and has plans to build a $100 million science museum in Knoxville.

“I am devastated and completely heartbroken by the loss of my wonderful brother, Joe,” Jim Clayton said in a statement released Tuesday, according to WBIR. “Joe and I were as close as two brothers can be, and, as only siblings, we have supported each other since growing up together on a farm in West Tennessee and as business partners for decades. My thoughts and concerns are totally for Joe’s family right now.”

Beasley Allen lawyer Mike Andrews focuses much of his practice on aviation litigation. Mike has represented people seriously injured in a variety of aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes. He currently represents families of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 victims involving the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.

Additional sources:
WATE Channel 6 Knoxville
WVLT Channel 8 Knoxville

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