NTSB finds Jim Clayton was at fault in fatal Tennessee River helicopter crash

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

The exact cause was an aerodynamic phenomenon known as vortex ring state and Clayton's "inability to arrest the helicopter's descent while maneuvering for landing," according to the report.

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 Aug. 3, 2020.

Jim Clayton's brother, Joe Clayton, drowned following the crash into the river, the report states. Jim and two other passengers escaped without injuries.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association explains vortex ring state can happen when "a helicopter descends at a rate that puts the blades in their own downwash."

"Instead of drawing clean air from above the blades, some disturbed air begins to travel up through the blades," according to the association.

In Clayton's case, the vortex ring state happened when he "descended steeply with little forward airspeed" and then applied power to stop the descent, the report states.

Robert Katz, a commercial pilot and flight instructor from Dallas with more than 40 years of experience, previously reviewed the preliminary NTSB report at the request of Knox News. Emphasizing he was using only the information he gleaned from the report, Katz shared his analysis.

"When (vortex ring state) happens, the helicopter will not have enough power to overcome this vicious cycle, and the helicopter will then settle from its current position to a lower altitude – in this case, into the river," Katz said.

Katz told Knox News he does not personally pilot helicopters, but this phenomenon is common knowledge in the piloting world.

"It is something that all helicopter pilots would be trained to recognize and also trained to mitigate with an appropriate action as to fly out of the area of disturbed air," he said.

Jim Clayton issued a statement in the days after the crash saying he was "devastated and completely heartbroken by the loss of my wonderful brother, Joe."

The helicopter went down in 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 "preimpact failure or mechanical malfunction" were found during the NTSB's investigation.

Ryan Wilusz: Knoxville's downtown reporter and urban explorer
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This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: NTSB: Jim Clayton at fault in fatal Tennessee River helicopter crash