NTSB Finds Jim Clayton Guilty of Fatal Helicopter Crash in Tennessee River

Jim Clayton, founder of Clayton Homes, was at fault in a helicopter crash who killed his brother in August 2020, according to a final report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

The exact cause was an aerodynamic phenomenon known as vortex ring and Clayton’s “inability to stop the helicopter’s descent while maneuvering to land,” the report said.

Clayton, who was 86 at the time of the crash, was attempting to land a Eurocopter EC130 on his property along the Tennessee River in Knoxville when the crash occurred on August 3, 2020.

Jim Clayton’s brother, Joe Clayton, drowned after the river crash, the report says. Jim and two other passengers escaped uninjured.

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association explains vortex ring can happen when “a helicopter descends at a speed that places the blades in their own downward direction.”

“Instead of drawing in clean air from above the blades, some disturbed air begins to travel up through the blades,” the association said.

In Clayton’s case, the vortex ring occurred when it “descended steeply with little forward airspeed” and then applied force to stop the descent, the report said.

Robert Katz, a Dallas commercial pilot and flight instructor with more than 40 years of experience, previously reviewed the preliminary NTSB report at the request of Knox News. Katz emphasized that he only used the information he gathered from the report, sharing his analysis.

“When (vortex ring) happens, the helicopter won’t have enough power to break this vicious circle, and the helicopter will then settle from its current position to a lower altitude — in this case, in the river,” Katz said.

Katz told Knox News that he does not fly helicopters himself, but this phenomenon is well known in the piloting world.

“It’s something that all helicopter pilots would be trained to recognize and also trained to reduce with appropriate action to fly out of the disturbed air area,” he said.

Jim Clayton released a statement in the days after the crash saying he was “devastated and heartbroken at the loss of my wonderful brother Joe.”

The helicopter crashed into the water near his home on Lake View Drive.

Jim’s grandson Flynt Griffin and Knoxville businessman John McBride were the other two passengers on board. All three survivors were rescued by a nearby pontoon boat.

No signs of “pre-impact failure or mechanical failure” were found during the NTSB’s investigation.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: NTSB: Jim Clayton Guilty of Fatal Helicopter Crash on Tennessee River

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