WYFF, the NBC-affiliated station in Greenville, South Carolina, is mourning the loss of two journalists who died while on assignment in the region on Monday.
Anchor Mike McCormick and photojournalist Aaron Smeltzer were out covering hazardous weather conditions in Polk County, North Carolina, when a tree crushed their news van, the station reported. Both men were killed.
The incident has not been directly attributed to subtropical storm Alberto. But heavy rain, partly from the fringes of the storm, has caused flooding concerns across the region.
“The ground is saturated,” Geoff Tennant, the fire chief in Tyron, North Carolina, told reporters Monday evening.
The incident occurred around 2:30 p.m. Tennant said the news crew was driving on Highway 176 when the tree collapsed on the vehicle.
“It is a freak of nature,” he said of the collapse. “You know it’s going to happen, you don’t know when.”
Tennant had just taped an interview with McCormick.
“We talked a little bit about how he wanted us to stay safe and we wanted him to stay safe,” Tennant said. “Then of course 10 or 15 minutes later we get the call and it was him and his photographer.”
On Monday evening, journalists from local newsrooms across the country joined WYFF in paying tribute to the news crew.
“Mike and Aaron were beloved members of our team, our family,” WYFF co-anchor Carol Goldsmith said while breaking the news on the station’s 6 p.m. newscast.
“All of us here at WYFF 4 are grieving,” co-anchor Michael Cogdill added. “We are a family. And you, our extended family, we thank you for your comfort as we mourn and as we seek to comfort the families.”
Later in the evening, anchors on a competing station, WSPA, called the news “heartbreaking.”
“While we are competitors on the air, Mike and Aaron were our friends, and part of a journalism family. We will all miss them both very much,” anchor Gordon Dill said.
Until recently, Smeltzer had worked at WSPA, the CBS-affiliated station in the area.
Both men were in their mid 30s. McCormick, a native of Florida, had been working at WYFF for eleven years.
Along with reporting during the week, he anchored weekend broadcasts.
He was “a stellar journalist all those years,” Goldsmith said.
Smeltzer, a native of Virginia, “shot news for more than a decade in our region,” Goldsmith said. “He loved covering news, especially in Spartanburg and its surroundings.”