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911 calls reveal details in helicopter crash that killed Joe Clayton

Newly released 911 calls from Knox County E911 reveal witnesses’ shock as a helicopter crashed into the Tennessee River Monday night, leaving one person dead.
(Flight Aware)
Published: Aug. 4, 2020 at 5:18 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 4, 2020 at 6:57 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Newly released 911 calls from Knox County E911 reveal witnesses’ shock as a helicopter crashed into the Tennessee River Monday night, leaving one person dead. Officials confirmed Tuesday that the victim was Joe Clayton, co-founder of Clayton Automobiles and Clayton Homes.

Knox County dispatch received its first call at 7:41 p.m. from a witness who saw the crash. That caller told dispatch, “Oh, God! Jim Clayton’s helicopter is out here, he’s out of it right now. My husband is going to get him out on the boat if he can.”

The first caller told dispatch that she watched the helicopter break into “a million pieces” as it went down into the river.

“I saw someone surface, the thing broke apart in a million pieces. Oh God! We were watching the whole thing,” said the first caller.

A second caller reported watching someone use a pontoon boat and life jackets to rescue those in the water.

The Knoxville Fire Department confirmed Monday night that three of the helicopter’s passengers were rescued by a boat.

“It looks like there’s three people, a neighbor has gotten out in his pontoon boat and gotten life jackets on them,” that caller told dispatch.

Clayton’s brother, James (Jim) Clayton survived the crash along with his grandson, Flynt Griffin, and their friend, John (Jay) McBride.

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

“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.

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