Tragedy struck on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, when a private plane crash killed two and injured one. The two deceased were identified by the Utah County Sheriff’s Office as 23-year-old UVU student Collin Niemela and 26-year-old Evan Backers. At the time of this writing, the survivor’s name has not yet been released.
Utah County first responders received a call reporting the incident around 11:15 a.m. on Tuesday, according to KSL News. The plane left the Spanish Fork airport earlier in the morning and went down near Kyhv Peak, formerly known as Squaw Peak.
“Those occupants died apparently on impact,” said Sgt. Spencer Cannon of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s a tough situation for a lot of people to deal with.”
The Provo Fire Department was first to spot the wreckage. Cannon stated that search crews in the air located the lone survivor walking outside of the plane, waving his arms. A Life Flight helicopter then hoisted him off the mountain to a local hospital.
What caused the crash is still unclear, but allegedly, investigators were only able to speak to the survivor briefly before he was sedated for treatment. The investigation is currently ongoing.
“We were saddened to learn that Collin Niemela, one of our UVU students, was tragically killed on November 14 in [a] private plane crash in the mountains east of Provo,” stated Scott Trotter, senior director of public relations at UVU.
Trotter expressed that Niemela was a highly regarded student in UVU’s School of Aviation Sciences and had recently completed his commercial pilot certificate through the FAA. “We extend our deepest sympathy to Collin’s family and friends.”
GoFundMe fundraisers have been set up for both individuals and their families.
“It is with heavy hearts that we come to remember our dear friend Collin Niemela, who left us far too soon,” states Niemela’s page. “Whether Collin was cheering us up with his infectious laughter or lending a helping hand, his impact on our lives is immeasurable. We invite you to join us in honoring his memory by contributing to this fund.”
Evan Backers’ page shares, “Evan was known for his passion and commitment to his family. He was a devoted husband and father, leaving behind his loving wife, Alexis, their 16-month-old son, Emmett, and another baby expected in April 2024. His family was the center of his world, and he loved them more than anything else.”
“In honor of Evan’s memory and to support his wife, Alexis, and their children during this incredibly difficult time, we have initiated this fundraising campaign. All donations will go directly to Alexis to help provide for Emmett and the upcoming addition to their family.”
For any student, faculty or staff member in need of support, the UVU Counseling Center and other resources are available. For more information, please call 801-863-8876 or visit https://www.uvu.edu/studenthealth/psych/index.html.