You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Aberfan disaster: what happened in the 1966 mining disaster in Wales that killed 144 people

The i logo The i 18/11/2019
a man in a white uniform standing in front of a crowd © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd

Fifty three years ago disaster struck the small Welsh mining village of Aberfan which saw the deaths of 144 people.

Pupils were just getting ready for lessons on October 21, 1966, when an avalanche of liquefied slurry from Merthyr Vale Colliery crashed down the hillside and claimed the lives of 116 children and 28 adults.

a crowd of people standing on top of a mountain © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd

What caused the mining disaster?

The night before the disaster brought heavy rains, which lead to a build up of water in the colliery slag tip, which was stationed on a mountain top.

The next morning, the tip slid down the side of the hill in waves of 20-30 feet, engulfing a row of houses, a farm and a school with 1.5 million cubic feet of debris.

Pantglas Junior School was struck by the avalanche which filled the classrooms with thick mud and rubble, and destroyed much of the building's structure.

Helpers filling sandbags on the tip above the shattered Pantglas Junior School to divert a spring and avert the risk of further landslides (Photo: Fox Photos/Getty)

There were 240 attendees at the school that morning, of which 109 children and five teachers were killed. Some of the staff died attempting to protect the children including the deputy headmaster and dinner lady.

Around 18 of the surrounding houses were also destroyed by the debris slide, and many other residents were forced to evacuate their homes.

What happened in the aftermath of the disaster?

Following the rescue efforts and retrieval of victims' bodies, which took a week, a tribunal was appointed to investigate the disaster.

Launched on 2 November, it heard 76 days' worth of evidence from over 100 witnesses.

The tribunal ruled responsibility for the accident lay primarily with the National Coal Board (NCB) and nine of its employees.

On the 21st of October 1966, 116 children and 28 adults were killed in the horrific Aberfan disaster caused by the failure and callousness of the National Coal Board. We remember those who lost their lives and stand with the community of #Aberfan always. pic.twitter.com/uZwGY9H04B

— Plaid Cymru (@Plaid_Cymru) October 21, 2019

However, the company was not prosecuted and none of its staff members faced repercussions. Instead an offer of £500 was made to each bereaved family, which many believed to be insufficient.

The tribunal also made several recommendations, including an extension of the 1954 Mines and Quarries Act to cover tips and a National Tip Safety Committee to advise the government.

A disaster fund was later set up by the mayor of Merthyr Tydfil and it totalled £1.75m which was shared among the victims' families.

In 1997, the Welsh government donated £1.5m to the Aberfan Memorial Charity and £500,000 to the Aberfan Education Charity.

Later the same year the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh planted a tree at the Aberfan Memorial Garden.

Memorial events took place to mark the 50th anniversary of the disaster in 2016. Among those who attended were the Prince of Wales and government ministers.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from The i

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon