From standoffs with police and bombings to heartbreaking tragedies and natural disasters, television has given the world a firsthand look into some of the most compelling and tragic events in history. As reporters and media outlets fight their way for their place in modern journalism, we uncovered an era of live television that is sure to give you chills. Whether you remember these events or you’re seeing them for the first time, some images may be disturbing and shocking as we take a look at the top 10 most insane moments ever caught on live television.
#10 – Tohoku Earthquake
Six minutes of absolute terror struck the country of Japan on March 11, 2011 after a seemingly quiet history of tsunamis left citizens ill prepared for absolute devastation when the Tohoku Earthquake reared its ugly head. Starting just over 40 miles away from the coast of the Oshika Peninsula of Tohoku, the earthquake was one of the largest in modern history with an astounding magnitude of 9.0 that triggered a series of events including a large tsunami with waves towering at well over 100 feet.
In mass devastation across Japan, March 2015 reports of the tragedy confirmed nearly 16,000 deaths, over 6,000 injuries and approximately 2,500 missing as a result of the earthquake and accompanying tsunami. As news helicopters flew over the area, the depiction of live terror was surreal as reporters desperately tried to update and encourage their fellow men and women to seek shelter and safety from the incredible series of natural disasters spanning flooding, landslides, fires, and so much more.
#9 – Los Angeles Riots
Also known as the “Los Angeles Uprising” and the “Rodney King Riots”, the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, California represent the boiling point between tense race relations throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s. Considered one of the largest riots in United States history, civil unrest erupted when Los Angeles Police Department officers charged with brutally assaulting Rodney King were acquitted by a mostly white jury. African Americans were enraged at the decision and took to the streets creating mass chaos through riots, assaults, arsons and lootings.
Lasting a total of six days, local television reporters risked their lives in an attempt to capture the unrest on camera, warning innocent bystanders to avoid the South Central and surrounding areas. With over 50 deaths, 2,000 injuries and over one billion dollars in property damage, police had completely lost control and the rioters showed no signs of stopping. Thanks to the California Army National Guard, the rioting finally ended with over 11,000 arrests and widespread change to reduce racial, political and economic tensions.
#8 – Berlin Wall Falls
Let the barrier fall, it’s Freedom Night. Times were changing in the late 1980s as relations between the former feuding East Germany and West Germany began to slowly improve. After 28 years, things finally came to a head in 1989 when the wall dividing the country in the capital city of Berlin was finally taken down. With gates opened on both sides and bulldozers crashing through the wall itself, Germans banded together in unity in front of live news cameras as a piece of history came crashing down.
Standing for nearly three decades, the fall of the Berlin Wall was a historic symbol of change that news crews from around the world were desperate to capture. As people, affectionately known as “wall woodpeckers”, chipped away at the wall for a piece of history in late 1989, crowds and media gathered to commemorate the fall, which would last until its final piece was demolished in 1992. From reporters like NBC’s Tom Brokaw to celebrities like David Hasselhoff standing atop the wall and singing “Looking for Freedom”, everyone had something to celebrate.
#7 – Manila Hostage Crisis
From disgruntled employee to crazed hijacker, Rolando Mendoza took over the media on August 23, 2010 when he hijacked a tourist bus in Manila, Philippines. The former Philippine National Police officer was upset about losing his job and wanted to get the attention he thought he deserved when he hijacked the bus in Rizal Park with 25 people on board. As 20 tourists, four locals and a Hong Kong tour guide were held captive, the city (and world) froze in terror as the tragedy unfolded on national television and across the internet.
In a standoff that lasted for over 11 hours, the tenth hour proved the most critical as Mendoza’s brother was arrested and an irate Mendoza opened fire in a battle with the police that raged for an hour and a half. Amid the chaos, the bus driver escaped and told the media and police, “Everyone is dead”. With nine total deaths including Mendoza as well as nine others injured, people around the world criticized Hong Kong and Filipino authorities for their seemingly incompetent response that played out on live television.
#6 – Munich Olympics Hostage Situation
“All hell has broken loose”. The 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany was anything but the typical (and expected) celebration of countries coming together to honor athleticism and competition. Instead, the Olympic Games were halted by a Palestinian group known as Black September who took 11 Israeli Olympic team members and a German police officer hostage, all of whom were later killed.
Seeking justice from a long established Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Black September demanded that 234 prisoners in Israel be released during the 20-hour long standoff as the world watched in horror on live television. Negotiations, however, fell through and led to a rescue attempt in which five of the eight Black September members were killed. With a total of 17 deaths and widespread criticism thanks to the ongoing media coverage, the Olympic Games were briefly suspended for the first time in modern history to commemorate the lives that were lost.
#5 – Space Shuttle Challenger
Taking off in five, four, three, two… On January 1, 1979, NASA introduced the world to the Space Shuttle Challenger and, just four years later, in April 1983, it launched successfully on its first mission. By January 28, 1986, the Challenger was preparing for yet another mission, yet another success, as the world watched in horror as the shuttle broke part only 73 seconds into the launch, killing all seven of the crew members on board.
Forever etched into the world’s memory, news reporters frantically reported from Cape Canaveral, Florida as NASA’s radio feed was heard loud and clear over the CNN broadcast. As the first shuttle destroyed while still in flight, NASA showed complete composure both during and after the tragedy as they halted all shuttle missions for nearly three years until they were fully prepared to launch the Discovery in September 1988.
#4 – Standoff in Waco
Extreme activism, brainwashing or a cult mindset – regardless of the term, when someone like Branch Davidian leader David Koresh has the power to convince others to follow him, it can be a very scary thing. America learned this lesson firsthand in 1993 when the leader and his followers faced off with the FBI in a 51-day siege at the Davidians’ Mount Carmel Center just outside of Waco, Texas.
Breaking ties from the Seventh Day Adventist church more than three decades prior, the Branch was known as a cult and first came under scrutiny for weapons violations. After an initial attempt to search and seize led to a gun battle, a 51-day standoff followed that finally ended on live television on April 19, 1993, as shots fired from both directions. Koresh ordered the compound to be burned down and the world watched as the Center went up in flames with the Davidians still inside. With 76 people, including Koresh, killed in the fire, 11 survived and were immediately arrested and later sentenced to prison for their involvement in the death of federal agents.
#3 – Lee Harvey Oswald Shot
“Lee Oswald has been shot. There’s a man with a gun.” Live television news was still very much a pioneer concept during the early 1960s when reporters scrambled for answers on November 22nd when President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas. After ongoing investigations, the United States government declared that Lee Harvey Oswald was in fact the man who pulled the trigger of a sniper rifle, forever robbing the country of their President.
Despite denying his involvement, Oswald was considered guilty by Americans long before his arrest. Nightclub operator, Jack Ruby, was of similar opinion and took matters into his own hands on November 24th when he shot Oswald in the stomach as Oswald was being transported to the jail. As news cameras rolled, Ruby saw his opportunity as the world watched and heard the fatal shot in what became one of the most memorable images of the century. Ruby later passed away in 1967 from lung cancer shortly after he appealed his death sentence after a jury found him guilty of Oswald’s murder.
#2 – Earthquake at the World Series
Taking “knock it out of the park” to an entirely new level! The 1989 World Series brought a lot of excitement to baseball as the Oakland Athletics took on the San Francisco Giants in the first cross-town match-up between two teams in the same area since 1956. Little did anyone know, however, that Game 3 would literally rock the world of baseball and the city itself.
On October 17 at 5:04 p.m., the Loma Prieta earthquake hit the area just half an hour before the first pitch was scheduled. With nearly 62,000 people filling the stands and a million others watching the live broadcast, the earthquake became the first ever captured on live television, which ended up saving many lives despite the temporary loss of coverage. When the feed finally returned, the game had been postponed as announcer Al Michaels said, “That was the greatest opening in the history of television, bar none”.
#1 – September 11th, 2001
Where were you? Of course the most disturbing and most recent moment ever caught on live television is the morning of September 11, 2001 when the second plane hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center. When the first plane hit the North Tower, almost every station in the United States interrupted their regular programming to show the live shot of the tower that had already been set ablaze. With cameras rolling as reporters speculated over the accident, no one expected the second plane to hit.
Crashing into the South Tower, hundreds of cameras were fixated as reporters on every station reacted to the tragedy, leaving the world overwhelmed with horrific memories. Live television coverage continued in what is now considered the most continuously covered event in American history as the Towers eventually fell, leaving the city dusted in ash. With nearly 3,000 American lives lost as a result of the terrorist attacks, the outrage led to an extended war in the Middle East and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.