50 years ago today – 21 October 1966 – Aberfan, a former coal mining village in South Wales, suffered a catastrophic loss. Days of rain resulted in the collapse of a colliery spoil tip above the village. Already overly large and dangerous, having already slipped a few times, it suddenly slid downhill in the form of slurry to engulf a school and houses. 144 people died – 116 of them children, aged between 7 and 10, and 28 adults.
The school was Pantglas Junior School. Young children and their teachers died from impact or suffocation.
Of the too few survivors, Gaynor Minett, who had been 8 at the time, later recalled:
“It was a tremendous rumbling sound and all the school went dead. You could hear a pin drop. Everyone just froze in their seats. I just managed to get up and I reached the end of my desk when the sound got louder and nearer, until I could see the black out of the window. I can’t remember any more but I woke up to find that a horrible nightmare had just begun in front of my eyes.”
Many recalled the total silence following the landslide. Trapped in the wreckage, young George Williams remembered:
“In that silence you couldn’t hear a bird or a child.”
The lies and cover-ups which followed, with the National Coal Board refusing to admit any fault on its part, can only be seen as horribly selfish, with no thought or feeling for the awful loss of the families; they put their own needs before that of bereaved families. There was a Tribunal of Inquiry, and thanks to the commitment of the barrister who represented the families, Desmond Ackner QC, blame was laid at the door of the NCB. Not that it made much difference – none in authority were sacked, and the chairman, Lord Robens was allowed to stay.
One of the reporters who had been there on that day, Alix Palmer, wrote about it in a letter to her mother.