Joe Clayton, business partner and brother to Jim, identified as helicopter crash victim

Jim Clayton’s brother, business partner and lifelong friend, Joe Clayton, has been identified as the person who died Monday night when a helicopter crashed into the Tennessee River. 

Joe’s body was recovered by rescue crews around 9:45 p.m. Monday within a few feet of the crash site in the Sequoyah Hills neighborhood of West Knoxville.

Jim was among the three passengers who survived the crash and were rescued by a pontoon boat.

“I am devastated and completely heartbroken by the loss of my wonderful brother, Joe,” Jim said in a news release. “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.”

Local businessman John McBride and Jim’s grandson Flynt Griffin also escaped the wreckage, and all three survivors refused medical treatment. 

“I am very grateful to the emergency personnel who responded so quickly and professionally and to the caring couple on a nearby boat who gave assistance,” Jim said. 

Building a business together

The Clayton brothers grew up in the western part of the state in rural Finger, Tennessee. As the sons of a sharecropper, the brothers spent long days in the fields picking cotton, according to an article by Forbes.

The brothers ended up relocating to Knoxville, where they launched an auto dealership in 1956, followed by a manufactured home company. The business split in 1981, with Jim taking the Clayton Homes business and Joe focusing on Clayton Volvo and other Southeast dealerships. 

“My thoughts and concerns are totally for Joe’s family right now,” Jim said. 

Sonar devices used in recovery 

The crash was reported just west of Alcoa Highway near Lakeview Drive. Calls came from residents of the neighborhood along the river, Knoxville Fire Department spokesman D.J. Corcoran said.

Rescue crews responded within 10 minutes and used underwater sonar devices to search for the fourth crash victim. Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said the crash happened at 7:40 p.m. 

The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash. Jim said he is cooperating with both agencies and will not be making additional statements about the crash at this time. 

Witness watched as blades ‘exploded’

Robert Crawford, a resident of the neighborhood, saw the helicopter descend toward the river and appear to hesitate before crashing into the water. 

The rotor blades “exploded” on impact, he said, and “hundreds of little pieces were floating in the water.” In the distance, he saw the heads the heads of survivors bobbing in the water

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