"I am devastated and completely heartbroken by the loss of my wonderful brother, Joe," Jim Clayton said after the fatal crash

By Joelle Goldstein
August 04, 2020 03:49 PM
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Joe Clayton
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The brother of millionaire entrepreneur Jim Clayton was reportedly killed Monday after a helicopter carrying the siblings, a grandson and their family friend crashed into the Tennessee River.

Knoxville Fire Department Captain DJ Corcoran explained during a press conference that one person was believed to be dead after the ordeal, while three others who were on board the aircraft managed to escape the wreckage and were later rescued by boaters.

Though Corcoran did not disclose their identities during the conference, authorities later revealed that Jim, his brother Joe Clayton, grandson Flynt Griffin, 40, and family friend Jay McBride, 65, were all involved in the crash, NBC affiliate WBIR reported.

A family statement issued by Jim, 86, and obtained by WBIR eventually confirmed that Joe, 84, was the sole victim of Monday's tragedy.

"I am devastated and completely heartbroken by the loss of my wonderful brother, Joe," Jim said in the statement. "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," he added.

Knoxville Police at the site of the crash
Knoxville Police Department

According to Corcoran, the fatal incident unfolded just before 8 p.m. in the Tennessee River between Alcoa Highway and Sequoyah Hills near Knoxville.

Authorities said they received a report of a helicopter going into the water and were told that witnesses saw "three people swimming [in the river] after it crashed."

A group who happened to be on a nearby pontoon boat eventually picked up the swimmers and brought them to shore, Corcoran said.

One witness, Sequoyah Hills resident Robert Crawford, told The Knoxville News Sentinel that he saw the helicopter heading downward and it "seemed to hesitate" before hitting the river.

Helicopter crash
Knoxville Police Department

Once it crashed, Crawford said the rotor blades "exploded" and "hundreds of little pieces were floating on the water."

Within 10 minutes of the 911 call, first responders were on the scene and in the river to search for the fourth person, who Corcoran said they believed was still in the helicopter submerged underwater.

Using underwater sonar and their rescue squads, the Knoxville Police Department and Fire Department spent close to three hours searching for the final victim in the river, according to the fire captain.

The three survivors, meanwhile, did not require medical attention, Corcoran said at a second press briefing.

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On Monday night around 9:45 p.m., after nearly two hours of searching the waters, authorities finally recovered the body of the fourth person near the crash site, according to The Knoxville News Sentinel.

At this time, it is unclear what caused the crash, if the helicopter — which Corcoran said was an EC-130 that could carry up to six people — was taking off or landing, if a distress call was made, and who was operating the aircraft.

An investigation is currently underway by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, Corcoran confirmed.

Though it is unclear who was driving the helicopter, WBIR reported that Jim was a longtime pilot and owned a helipad along the lake near his home that he used for easy access.

He and Joe owned a Knoxville-based auto dealership together — which Joe eventually took over — before Jim went on to found a manufactured housing company called Clayton Homes in 1966, which made millions for their family, according to the outlet.

Today, Clayton Homes is run by Jim's son Kevin Clayton. The company was acquired into Warren Buffett's family of holdings under the Berkshire Hathaway name in the early 2000s, WBIR reported.