Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Eurocopter EC 130B4, N55GJ: Fatal accident occurred August 03, 2020 in Knoxville, Tennessee

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. 

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Nashville, Tennessee
BEA; Le Bourget, France
Airbus Helicopters Inc; Grand Prairie, Texas
Safran Helicopter Engines; Grand Prairie, Texas

Location: Knoxville, TN
Accident Number: ERA20LA273
Date & Time: 08/03/2020, 1941 EDT
Registration: N55GJ
Aircraft: Eurocopter EC130
Injuries: 1 Fatal, 3 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal

On August 3, 2020, at 1941 eastern daylight time, a Eurocopter EC130-B4 helicopter, N55GJ, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident in Knoxville, Tennessee. One passenger was fatally injured, and the pilot and two additional passengers were not injured. The helicopter was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

After refueling the helicopter, the pilot and his passengers departed McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS), Knoxville, Tennessee, about 1826 for a flight in the local area. About 1940 the pilot made a right circling approach over the Tennessee River toward a landing site near the river's edge on his property. He reported that he, "was descending with low power and a 25° angle of descent; ever slowing to come to a hover at low speed over the water." He stated that he added power to stop the descent and was planning to hover to the landing site at a height about 75 feet above the water. He stated that when he added power, the helicopter "started to settle" and he "pulled max power to stop the settling;" however, the helicopter continued to descend into the water. A passenger stated that when the helicopter descended toward the water in a level attitude, the left "skid hit and then rotor hit" and the helicopter was "torqued into the water on the left side." The pilot and two of the passengers were able to egress the helicopter before it sank.

Examination of the accident site by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector revealed that the helicopter came to rest on the bottom of the Tennessee River about 435 ft and 149° from the landing site on the pilot's property. The helicopter's fenestron was recovered floating nearby.
The helicopter was recovered from the river mostly intact. Examination of the wreckage revealed a large hole in the left side windshield; the left door window broken out; damage to all rotor blades consistent with water impact; and two of the four suspension bars fractured midspan. The tailboom remained attached to the fuselage, and the fenestron separated from the tailboom just aft of the ring frame.

The helicopter was retained for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Eurocopter
Registration: N55GJ
Model/Series: EC130 B4
Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Amateur Built: No
Operator:On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: TYS, 979 ft msl
Observation Time: 1953 EDT
Distance from Accident Site: 8 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 27°C / 20°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Few / 4000 ft agl
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 5 knots / , 80°
Lowest Ceiling: Broken / 25000 ft agl
Visibility: 10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.91 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Knoxville, TN (TYS)
Destination: Knoxville, TN

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 None
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 Fatal, 2 None
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal, 3 None
Latitude, Longitude: 35.945278, -83.956389 (est)

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email

Brothers Joe Clayton, left, and Jim Clayton, right, as boys.

Brothers Joe Clayton and Jim Clayton

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Millionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Jim Clayton, his brother and business partner Joe Clayton, a Clayton grandson and a family friend were onboard the helicopter that crashed Monday night into Fort Loudoun Lake.

Authorities say Jim Clayton, who also was a pilot, grandson Flynt Griffin along with developer and arts supporter Jay McBride were able to swim to help after the Eurocopter EC 130B4 went down about 7:40 p.m. Monday night.

Clayton's brother and longtime business partner Joe Clayton died in the crash. The survivors didn't require medical attention.

Authorities haven't said who was flying the helicopter, registered to CFA Holdings Inc at a Knoxville address that has ties to Clayton interests. Clayton had a helipad along the lake near his hillside Lake View Drive home that he used for easy access.

“I am devastated and completely heartbroken by the loss of my wonderful brother, Joe,” Jim Clayton said in a statement released Tuesday. “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.”

Clayton, 86, has been a supporter of the arts in East Tennessee for decades. He and his family foundation also are planning a $100 million science museum that will be built east of downtown Knoxville on the site of the current headquarters of the Knoxville Police Department.


Jim and Joe Clayton, younger by 21 months, grew up the sons of sharecroppers in McNairy County, Tennessee. It was a hardscrabble life that served as a great motivator for the boys to do better, as Jim Clayton would write later in his book, "First A Dream".

Jim Clayton came to Knoxville in the 1950s to get an engineering degree from the University of Tennessee. He urged his younger brother to join him and go to business school, Joe Clayton would later recall in a 2012 interview with Hallerin Hill on "Anything Is Possible".

"We were always very close," Joe Clayton said.

Big brother was the more outgoing of the two, Joe Clayton said.

After Jim got into the car sales business in Knoxville, Joe joined him. Their lots were a familiar site to locals on Clinton Highway. Joe Clayton enjoyed the car business so much he didn't finish school.

“I liked selling cars, really enjoyed it. Still do,” Joe Clayton told Hill.

An amateur musician as well as an entrepreneur, Jim Clayton advertised the car lots on Knoxville area television while strumming a guitar.

Joe Clayton eventually took over the car dealership business. It gained a folksy, family-friendly reputation

"We take pride in going the extra mile for our customers. Since we know that shopping for a used car can be frustrating, we try to make it as easy as possible. Give us a try and find out," a statement attributed to Joe Clayton reads on the Clayton Used Cars website.

From cars, the brothers expanded in the mid 1960s into mobile homes, what today is referred to as manufactured housing.

By the early 1980s, the brothers split their interests, with Joe focusing on cars and Jim focusing on Clayton Homes.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without his (Jim’s) assistance. Hope he feels the same way," Joe Clayton said.


Manufactured housing made millions for Jim Clayton and his family. He later went into banking.

Clayton Homes is run today by his son, Kevin Clayton. In the early 2000s, billionaire investor Warren Buffett folded the company into his family of holdings under the Berkshire Hathaway name. Its headquarters are in Maryville.

Through the decades, Jim Clayton has given generously to support the arts. He was a major benefactor in construction of the Knoxville Music of Art on World's Fair Park.

He's a supporter of the Knoxville Symphony.

He's also a longtime pilot, having flown fixed wing aircraft for many decades as well as helicopters.

One of Jim Clayton's latest projects is a Clayton Family science museum, which has a planned budget of $100 million as well as a $50 million endowment.

Clayton told WBIR in 2018 he'd traveled the globe looking at established museums to get inspiration for his project. He envisioned it as a place that families from across the region could attend. He wants the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to play a part, lending their expertise.

Flynt Griffin, 40, is involved in family interests, including the Clayton Family Foundation, for which he's listed as a director, records show. He has a Knoxville home, records show.

Jay McBride, 65, has been a developer and is an active arts supporter in Knoxville.

He's served on the board of the art museum and is vice president for development on the Knoxville Symphony board of directors. He's married to artist Marga McBride and they live in West Knoxville.


  1. Unfortunate to not have an airbag float system. Recovery video shows mostly intact machine, which suggests it was a low speed water entry.

    Very challenging to exit submerging machine without drowning, even if not injured.

  2. Tough loss to the community, they were a solid family and generous to the community


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.