KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A final report released Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board concludes that Clayton Homes cofounder, Jim Clayton, was at fault when the helicopter he was piloting in August 2020 crashed, leading to the death of his brother.
Jim Clayton was piloting a helicopter on Aug. 3, 2020 with three passengers when it crashed into the Tennessee River near Knoxville. Jim Clayton and two passengers escaped the crash and were picked up by a boat while swimming to shore. Joe Clayton, 84, drowned as a result of the crash.
“The family is reviewing the NTSB report and has no comment at the present time,” a Clayton family representative said in a statement.
The NTSB’s final incident report lists the cause of the crash as “The pilot’s entry into vortex ring state and his inability to slow down the helicopter’s descent while maneuvering for landing.”
The vortex ring state describes an aerodynamic phenomenon when the helicopter is in vertical descent with little to no ability to climb, even with maximum engine power applied. NTSB investigators said in the report that weather conditions and the pilot’s failure to consistently maintain altitude and airspeed during the landing attempt caused the helicopter to enter a vortex ring state.
“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”National Transportation Safety Board final report
A pilot with whom Clayton had previously flown was interviewed by investigators. That pilot said he had discussed the crash with Jim Clayton the morning after it happened, and that Clayton recalled “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.
No evidence of a pre-impact failure or mechanical malfunction was found by investigators, the report states, and no preimpact anomalies were noted with the engine.
The helicopter came to rest on the bottom of the Tennessee River and was later recovered mostly intact. Damage listed in the report includes a large hole in the left side windshield, left door window broken out, damage to all rotor blades consistent with water impact and two of four suspension bars fractured midspan.
Jim and Joe Clayton found Clayton Homes, a manufactured housing company, in 1966. The company grew into the largest producer and seller of manufactured housing in America before it was sold to Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway for $1.7 billion in 2003.