Live television has an amazing ability to transfer us to places around the world without ever leaving our own home. This ability has given people a front row view to some shocking events. Some of these events are iconic and forever changed the world, while others are lesser known but no less stunning. Here are 10 shocking events that unfolded on live television.
Note: Some of the videos below are very disturbing, and should be watched with caution.
10. Friday Night Fights Death
Boxer Benny “The Kid” Paret won the Welterweight Championship on May 27, 1960, but then lost in his first title defense against Emile Griffith on April 1, 1961, when Griffith knocked him out in the 13th round. This led to a rematch where Paret won the fight in a split decision. Paret would go on to lose the title two months later in a match against Gene Fullmer.
Both matches between Paret and Griffith were brutal fights and this added a lot of contention to their third match. The match wasn’t for a title, but it would be broadcast nationwide on the ABC’s weekly live show, Friday Night Fights. At the weigh-in, the fighters almost got into a fight when Paret gave Griffith a pat on the butt and whispered “Maricón, maricón,” which is a Spanish gay slur.
On March 24, 1962, live from Madison Square Garden, the fight almost ended in the sixth round when Griffith was nearly counted out, but saved by the bell. The match continued all the way to the 12th round and the announcer speculated that it would be an incredibly tame round, but Griffith had other plans. He came out swinging and got Paret into the corner where his arms got tangled up in the ropes. Once he had Paret in the corner, Griffith landed 24 punches to his head. Finally, the referee stopped the match, but he was too late. Paret fell into a coma and died 10 days later.
9. The Murder of Alison Parker and Adam Ward
It was just before 7:00 a.m. on August 26, 2015, and 24-year-old reporter Alison Parker and 27-year-old Adam Ward were outside of a shopping center of Moneta, Virginia. Parker was doing a live interview with Vicki Gardner, executive director of the local chamber of commerce while Ward recorded it. Unbeknownst to the trio, 41-year-old Vester Lee Flanagan II, who also went by his professional pseudonym, Bryce Williams, was armed and standing by. As Parker and Gardner chatted live on-air, Flanagan, who was recording his own video, shot all three people. The broadcast was cut, and a clearly shocked anchor continued on with the broadcast.
Police were summoned to the scene, but unfortunately it was too late for Parker and Ward. They both succumbed to their injuries, though luckily Gardner survived. Flanagan, who was a former employee of the same news station that Parker and Ward worked for, had been fired in 2013 for disruptive conduct. On his Facebook and Twitter accounts Flanagan claimed that both Parker and Ward were racist and were the reason he was fired. He also posted the video from his POV. The police tracked down Flanagan a short time later. He killed himself during a car chase.
8. Attack on the Dutch Royal Family
On April 30, 2009, Queen Beatrix and other members of the Dutch royal family were seated in an open roof bus as part of the Queen’s Day parade in Apeldoorn, Netherlands. At about 11:50 a.m., the bus was making its last turn when a black Suzuki Swift crashed through the crowd, barely missed the bus, and collided head-on with a nearby monument.
No one in the royal family was hurt, but unfortunately seven people lost their lives and another 10 were injured. The driver of the car, 38-year-old Karst Roeland Tates, died the next day in the hospital. According to the Dutch media, who spoke with Tates’ neighbors, Tates was angry about losing his job as a night security watchman and was about to be evicted from his home, so he decided to seek some vengeance on the royal family.
7. JetBlue Airways Flight 292
JetBlue Airways Flight 292 was set to fly from Burbank, California to New York City, on September 21, 2005. Shortly after takeoff, the pilots discovered that they could not retract the landing gear. The problem was that it was turned sideways, which meant that it could not be used for landing. For hours the plane, with its 140 passengers and 6-member crew, circled around Southern California, using up as much fuel as they could. This would make the plane lighter and it would decrease the chances of the plane bursting into flames when they did land.
Newsrooms in the area had picked up on the story and started showing it live. People on the plane had access to cable and were able to watch live coverage of their plane in peril. The TVs were shut off in the plane just before they were set to land. The passengers were told to assume the crash position, while viewers at home held their collective breath. Without the landing gear, the plane touched down at Los Angeles International Airplane in a wave of sparks and flames, but miraculously no one was hurt or killed.
6. Hurricane Katrina
In the early morning hours of August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast of the United States. When it hit the shores, it was a Category 3 storm that had winds of 100–140 miles per hour and spanned over 400 miles. Katrina is not the strongest storm on record, but what made Katrina so devastating and deadly was the unstable levees and unreliable drainage system in New Orleans. The water came over the top of the levees, through the soil underneath, and in some parts the raging water simply washed the levees away.
24-hour news networks descended on the area, showing live footage of people waiting for help on the roofs of their homes as flood water that was on fire surrounded them. Then there was the coverage of the Superdome, where people, mostly African Americans, were forced to stay for five days in Third World-type conditions.
All of this was watched by the world, as the American news networks rarely reported on anything else in the days after the storm. The shocking footage of the storm and the treatment of American citizens frustrated a lot of people, which was infamously articulated by Kanye West, making it one of the few times that he opened his mouth and said something out loud that many people were just thinking in their heads.
At least 1,833 people died during the storm and its aftermath. It also cost $100 billion in damage.
5. The Columbine Shooting
The April 20, 1999, massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, began at 11:19 a.m. when gunmen Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, both 17, pulled out shotguns and semi-automatic weapons and opened fire on fellow students in the school’s cafeteria. As soon as the shooting started, calls were made to 9-1-1 and newsrooms in the area were getting reports of a gunman, or gunmen, at the school. Between 11:55 and 12:00, affiliate stations from NBC, CBS, and ABC, all switched to a live broadcast from the school. They interviewed people and one station even spoke to a student in the school live on the air. The coverage also included students sporadically escaping from the school, while some of the wounded were pulled to safety. This included Pat Ireland, who was shot in the head yet made it to a second floor window, where he was pulled down by first responders. He made a full recovery and has gone on to have an incredibly successful life.
Klebold and Harris killed 11 students and one teacher before turning the guns on themselves in the library. While school shootings did happen before this incident, Columbine ushered in a disturbing new era of school violence that still plagues American society today.
4. The Lee Harvey Oswald Assignation
On November 22, 1963, at 12:30 p.m., American President John F. Kennedy was shot three times as he rode in the back of a convertible in Dallas, Texas. At 1:00 p.m., Kennedy arrived at the hospital, but doctors never had a hope in saving him, and he was pronounced dead. While there is footage of the assassination, the shooting was not actually aired live on television.
Meanwhile, police were on the lookout for Lee Harvey Oswald. He was seen leaving the area where it is believed the shots were fired from – the Texas School Book Depository. At 1:15, a short distance away from the book depository, police officer J.D. Tippit confronted a man matching the description of Oswald, and Tippit was shot dead. Oswald was arrested at 1:45 p.m. after police received an anonymous tip that someone who matched the description of the shooter was in the Texas Theater, which was showing the movie War is Hell. Oswald was apprehended, and taken into police custody.
Over the next two days, Oswald was interviewed and put into police lineups. On November 24, at 12:20 p.m. Oswald was being led through the basement of the Dallas Police Station. Television stations had canceled all programming two days prior to cover the death of the President, and showing live footage of Oswald being transported to the county jail. But before Oswald even left the police station, Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner with minor connections to organized crime, pulled out a gun and fired a single bullet from his .38 revolver, hitting Oswald in the chest. Oswald died in the hospital a short time later, leaving a lot of unanswered questions as to motive and possible accomplices.
Ruby was arrested on site and said he did it because he was mad at Oswald for killing Kennedy. On March 14, 1964, Ruby was given the death sentence. He died on January 3, 1967, from pulmonary embolism in the same hospital where Kennedy was pronounced dead, and where Oswald died.
The murder of Oswald also holds the dubious honor of being the first murder committed on live TV.
3. The Japan Tsunami
On March 11, 2011, at 2:46 p.m., about 15 miles (24 km) below the surface of the Pacific Ocean and 45 miles (72 kilometers) east of Tohoku, Japan, there was a magnitude 9 earthquake. The earthquake lasted for about six minutes and rocked the Japanese mainland. The earthquake also set off a huge tsunami that was 30 feet tall in some locations. When the water hit land, it moved people, boats, cars, and buildings further inland as if they were toys. It also damaged a number of nuclear reactors, and led to three meltdowns at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. It’s the second worst nuclear disaster ever, just behind Chernobyl.
TV networks, like the NHK, which is Japan’s national public broadcasting organization, showed live footage as the giant wave rolled in, destroying everything in its path. Normally, Japan is fairly prepared for earthquakes, but the earthquake and the ensuing tsunami were really unexpected and citizens only had one minute to prepare. As a result, 15,893 people lost their lives.
2. The Moon Landing
Okay, how about we step away from shocking tragedy and celebrate an outstanding live achievement for a moment? Neil Armstrong stepping onto the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969, was the pinnacle of human advancement. Beside just the event being so historic, the fact that the footage was shot on the moon and then shown live across the world is astonishing in itself.
In order to accomplish this amazing feat, two special cameras were made that could withstand temperatures between 250 and -250 degrees. They also ran on seven watts of power, which is as much energy as a Christmas bulb. The next logistical problem they overcame was how to get the signal to Earth and into the homes of the viewers. In order to do this, the footage was beamed from the moon to two observatories in Australia and California, which was turned into a television broadcast format that was sent to NASA in Houston. Once NASA had the footage, they broadcast the footage live, where 600 million people around the world watched it.
1. September 11 Attacks on New York City
It really shouldn’t be a surprise that the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center Towers in New York City in 2001 is our number one entry. This is easily one of the most historic moments to ever unfold on live TV. Yes, there are terrorist attacks in other countries where more people have died, but the effects of 9/11 are still felt today all around the world.
The seemingly innocuous day forever changed the world when at 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into floors 93-99 of the North Tower, killing everyone on the airplane and even more people in the building. Since the crash was in such a high profile area, many news networks cut to live shots of the World Trade Center in flames within minutes of the crash. At the time, no one knew what was happening. They didn’t know if it was an accident or an attack, and then to everyone’s shock at 9:03 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into floors 75-85 of the South Tower. Then, in horror, people around the world were able to watch as the South Tower collapsed at 9:59, followed by the North Tower, which collapsed at 10:28.
Sadly, 2,753 people lost their lives in the attacks on the Twin Towers.