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Top 10 Craziest Events Caught on Live TV

VO: Rebecca Brayton
For the 50th anniversary of Lee Harvey Oswald’s murder on November 24th: When you're on live television, you have to be prepared for anything to happen. Such events can range from death to natural disasters and so much more. Thanks to the magic of broadcasting, we get to witness many unforgettable moments not only in real-time but many other people around the world. Join as we count down our picks for the top 10 craziest events caught on live TV.

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Many witnessed these unforgettable events in real-time thanks to the magic of broadcasting. Welcome to and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 craziest events caught on live TV.

#10: Manila Hostage Crisis (2010)

The ten-hour standoff between ex-police officer Rolando Mendoza and Filipino officials wasn’t only witnessed by millions in real-time on TV, but also on the internet. Angry at being fired from his job, Mendoza hijacked a tour bus in Manila. After he watched his brother’s arrest via the bus’ TV set, Mendoza continued shooting hostages inside the bus. He eventually exchanged gunfire with police and was shot dead.

#9: The World Series Earthquake (1989)

This tremor struck San Francisco Bay for 10-15 seconds and was caught live on TV because of the ongoing World Series. The MLB’s Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants were warming up for their third game when the quake hit and had announcers scrambling for an explanation. Measuring 6.9 on the Richter Scale, the Loma Prieta earthquake caused over 60 deaths and thousands of injuries.

#8: Lee Harvey Oswald’s Murder (1963)

The aftermath of JFK’s assassination ushered in the age of TV news by giving people instant access to unfolding developments through moving pictures. But the actual assassination wasn’t captured or broadcast in real-time. However, the shooting of his alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald WAS: while covering Oswald’s move to jail, a network TV camera shocked millions by giving them a view of the fatal shots, delivered by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby.

#7: The Fall of the Berlin Wall (1989)

It took almost 30 years for the barrier dividing West Berlin from East Berlin to finally be torn down: following protests and growing crowds of East German refugees making their way to the west, the authorities were forced to open the gates. For the next few weeks, TV audiences worldwide watched as the Germans came together to demolish the wall, and Communism in Germany as well.

#6: The Waco Siege (1993)

After the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms unsuccessfully attempted to search the Branch Davidian Christian sect’s ranch for illegal weapons, the raid escalated into a fatal shootout. What TV audiences saw next was an intense and violent 51-day siege involving the FBI. The real-time broadcast wasn’t only notable for the coverage of the gunshots, tear gas and the fire, but also for partly inspiring the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombings.

#5: Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster (1986)

With teacher Christa McAuliffe on board and hundreds of schoolchildren watching in real-time, the Challenger launch was to be the first of its kind. Though CNN transmitted the sole live broadcast, news of the disaster spread like wildfire through other networks. Because the media focused on the story’s ‘human element’ and tragic moments for dramatic effect, it became a hot topic for several weeks and changed future news reporting.

#4: Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami (2011)

After the most powerful earthquake the country had ever seen struck an area near Tohoku, a potent tsunami washed over Japan and killed thousands. Japanese TV networks and CNN were there to capture this horrifying act of nature. Though the continuous footage of the destruction caused by the deadly waters shocked the world, the coverage also encouraged a massive worldwide relief response.

#3: Munich Massacre (1972)

Since the initial attack on the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics by Black September took place in the wee hours of the morning, the cameras weren’t yet rolling. But once morning came along, the media covered the response so well that the Palestinian terrorists already knew when and how the German-border police were preparing to attack them! Unfortunately, the Munich Massacre resulted in the deaths of the hostages and several others.

#2: The Los Angeles Riots (1992)

Also called the South Central riots, this race riot was one of America’s biggest and most deadly civil disturbances. The L.A. population was so angry that the primarily white jury had acquitted the LAPD cops caught brutally beating Rodney King that they participated in arson, assault, and raiding for six days. Local TV cameras caught it all and probably instigated the other riots that broke out in multiple American cities.

Honorable Mentions

Ayrton Senna’s Fatal Crash
First Images of the Gulf War

#1: September 11 Attacks (2001)

Moments after the World Trade Center was hit the first time, media outlets picked up live feeds that glued worldwide audiences to their TV sets. So when another plane crashed into the South Tower less than twenty minutes later, it was truly a moment no one will ever forget. Coverage of the tragedy and its aftermath changed the way western news was reported globally and became the lengthiest continuous news event to be covered in American television.

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