Businessman, Philanthropist Joe Clayton Dies in Knoxville Helicopter Crash

The Knoxville Police Department search and rescue personnel survey the Tennessee River after Monday's helicopter crash.

Clayton Homes’ Founder Jim Clayton Pulled from River with Grandson, Family Friend

Brothers and cofounders of Clayton auto and home sales Joe and Jim Clayton were with grandson Flynt Griffin and family friend Jay McBride in a helicopter that crashed into the Tennessee River, officials said.

Joe Clayton died in the crash.

The Clayton family will be received friends on Aug. 11 at Berry Highland Memorial. A private graveside service for the family was to be held.

The helicopter crash occurred about 7:45 p.m. in a residential area about two miles southwest of Knoxville, according to reports. Survivors were pulled from the river shortly after the crash by witnesses in a pontoon boat.

Clayton’s corporate headquarters are in nearby Maryville, Tenn.

Joe Jim Clayton Helicopter Crash
Emergency personnel watch the search after the helicopter crash in the Tennessee River. Crash scene photos courtesy of the Knoxville Police Department.

“I am devastated and completely heartbroken by the loss of my wonderful brother, Joe,” Jim Clayton said in a statement released by the family. “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 Helicopter Crash home auto sales Joe Clayton
Clayton Mobile Home Sales during its early days in retail.

Joe Clayton spent much of his career operating Clayton Auto Sales, which he started with Jim Clayton before Clayton Homes started as a retail home center. Today Clayton is the largest off-site homebuilder in the country.

It was unknown whether the aircraft, a Eurocopter EC-130, was landing or taking off when it went down, officials said.

The body of Joe Clayton was recovered about two hours after the crash, investigators said.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash. Jim Clayton, who is a pilot, said he is cooperating fully with the agencies and will not make any statements regarding the crash at this time. Joe Clayton also was a pilot.

“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 Clayton said.