ASHEBORO, N.C. — Representatives with the North Carolina Zoo said an employee died during a planned drill in the Africa Exhibit. The Randolph County Sheriff's Office said deputies received a 911 call about a fall at the zoo around 8:20 Thursday morning. 

A zoo official reported that an employee had fallen from a tree during a drill. The NC Department of Labor said the employee was an arborist employed at the zoological park.

Pat Simmons, Director of the NC Zoo, said, "I just want you all to know that this is indeed a sad and tragic day for us. You know the North Carolina Zoo is heartbroken to announce that one of our employees, one of our family, died this morning during a scheduled drill."

The employee was engaged in an aerial rescue drill and fell 20-30 feet from a tree, according to zoo officials. As part of the rescue drill, a trained arborist goes into a tree to bring down another trained arborist. Simmons said, "We had someone in the tree for the rescue when the accident happened."

The Zoo closed for the day at 2pm but will reopen on Friday.    

The Zoo is working closely with investigators to determine details of the incident, but did say it is not related to any of the animals. 

"Everyone at the zoo wishes to express our deepest condolences to the family and that we are truly devastated by the loss," Simmons said.

"We are indeed heartbroken and devastated and want to support the family. That's what we're doing first and foremost. We're supporting our staff and the family at this time."

The Zoo will reopen Friday at normal hours, according to the Zoo's director. 

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