Firefighters made every possible effort to assist a friend and fellow firefighter, Salt Lake Fire Chief Tom Shannon said at a press conference Friday, but it wasn't enough to save his life.
For a weekend vacation, three Salt Lake firefighters from Station 5 were flying a single-engine plane from Salt Lake City to Colorado Springs. Early in their flight they were forced to make an emergency landing in the Uinta mountains in Wasatch County. The crash landing left two, Craig Weaver and Bryon Meyer, in critical condition and the third, Dylan Hopkins, dead.
"Dylan was very excited when he came on the department. It was his lifelong dream to be a firefighter" said Scott Freitag, public information officer with the Salt Lake Fire Department. "He was always so excited to go out on a call. He loved the job and learning all the time. He was a firefighter, a paramedic and part of heavy rescue. He wanted to do as much as he could."
At about 12:30 p.m., Weaver, an experienced pilot, attempted to land the Cessna 172 in a clearing, but the plane came down hard, Freitag said. All three were trained as emergency paramedics for the fire department and took immediate action to stabilize one another's conditions, Freitag said. The cause of the crash is still under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration.
"They did everything they could to help each other until help could get there," Freitag said.
Hopkins, 25, was pronounced dead at University Hospital in Salt Lake City. Freitag described Hopkins as a well-rounded firefighter who had a passion for service. He had served with the department for four years. Weaver and Meyer are listed in critical but stable condition and are expected to recover from their injuries.
Shortly after the crash landing, Weaver made cell contact with Airmed, where he is also a paramedic. Brian Simpson, a program manager for Airmed, said that three helicopters were immediately dispatched to the area to begin searching for the crash site. As crews searched, Weaver continued to maintain contact with the search party, although high altitudes routinely broke the connection.
It took crews more than an hour to locate the crash site because they fell off the radar of air traffic control, but crews knew they were close when they began to hear their engines on Weaver's side of the phone, Simpson said. The plane crashed at an elevation of about 9,800 feet and was more than 20 miles from the nearest road.
"We're glad we could rescue two; it is heart-wrenching to know your family is out there," Simpson said. "If this had happened at another time of day, the outcome could have been completely different."
Meyer, Weaver and Hopkins were all part of the heavy rescue team for the Salt Lake Fire Department, a group that specializes in rescues above or below ground. Freitag said that the firefighters at Station 5, located at 900 South and 900 East, have always maintained close relationships, spending time together both at and outside of work.
"This is a tragedy that happens rarely," Freitag said. "We deal with this every day in our work, but right now we are grieving for Dylan and his family."