Masked guerrillas open fire from two trucks painted in army drab and camouflage. An approaching helicopter billows black smoke and careens out of control, somehow discharging parachuting crew members barely a hundred feet from the ground before it crashes in flames.
The footage was of a 1988 Irish Republican Army attack, according to a documentary crew from Britain's ITV network. Gamers, however, countered that it is a clip from a video game, saying they recognized the scene.
ITV admitted Tuesday that its much-vaunted new investigative series, "Exposure," picked up a mischievously labeled clip from the Internet and never figured out it came from a military shoot-'em-up game, Arma II.
"This was an unfortunate case of human error for which we apologize," said ITV spokesman James MacLeod a day after 1.3 million saw Monday's broadcast of the documentary.
The program sought to document how deposed Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi supplied the outlawed IRA with weaponry in the mid-1980s, a topic that has been extensively documented. It also asserted _ without backing up the claim with evidence _ that Gadhafi continued to fund IRA dissidents until recent months.
MacLeod maintained that ITV did have real footage of the 1988 attack in question _ something that, if true, has never been seen publicly before _ and would edit it into the online version. But the program remained off of the network's video-streaming list Tuesday night.
Veteran observers of the Northern Ireland conflict, as well as the gaming community, were flabbergasted that even an amateur reporter could mistake the video-game clip for any IRA attack.
The footage shows several men operating from military-grade vehicles, a capability that the underground IRA never had, while the explosion and parachuting figures bear no resemblance to the June 23, 1988 attack.
The IRA did shoot at a helicopter that day on Northern Ireland's border, but the helicopter landed safely and no crew members were wounded _ much less parachuted from an altitude certain to kill them.
The documentary superimposed a label, "IRA film 1988," while a voiceover claimed: "With Gadhafi's heavy machine guns it was possible to shoot down a helicopter as the terrorists' own footage of 1988 shows. This was what the security forces feared most."
Gamers celebrated ITV's stumble as proof that video games were more realistic than ever.
"ITV documentary can't tell the difference between gaming and reality," said a headline on the PC Gamer website. Readers speculated that ITV's next documentary would explore how Gadhafi was secretly funding video-game companies to promote stupidity in the media.
"I am not sure how they could make such an obvious mistake," said Marek Spanel, chief executive of Bohemia Interactive Studio, the Czech Republic-based maker of Arma II.
The game depicts United States Marines fighting insurgents in a fictional former Soviet republic called Chernarus.