A reporter and photojournalist were driving on a North Carolina highway while covering heavy rain in the area Monday when a tree uprooted and fell onto their car.
News anchor Mike McCormick and photojournalist Aaron Smeltzer, who both worked for South Carolina's NBC affiliate WYFF, died on Monday while driving in Polk County, North Carolina, as they were covering subtropical storm Alberto's landfall.
Tryon Fire Chief Geoffrey Tennant said in a press conference that the department received a call about a tree falling onto a car with people trapped inside. Though first responders worked to get the tree off the SUV, Tennant said, both men died at the scene.
Calling the accident a "freak of nature," Tennant said the two journalists' deaths had "personally affected me" because he had done an interview with McCormick shortly before his death.
"We had talked a little bit about how he wanted us to stay safe and how we wanted him to stay safe," he told reporters. "Of course, 10, 15 minutes later we get the call and it was him and his photographer."
McCormick had worked at WYFF for 11 years. Smeltzer joined the station in February and had worked in the area for seven years.
"All of us at WYFF News 4 are grieving," the station said in a tweet. "We are a family."
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper noted the deaths of McCormick and Smeltzer Monday night, in a statement urging residents to take caution as rains from subtropical depression Alberto moved off the Florida Panhandle and across the South.
"Two journalists working to keep the public informed about this storm have tragically lost their lives, and we mourn with their families, friends and colleagues," Cooper said. "North Carolina needs to take Alberto seriously. I urge everyone to keep a close eye on forecasts, warnings and road conditions, especially in western North Carolina where even heavier rain is predicted through tomorrow."