Death under the black mountain: the Aberfan disaster

Fifty years ago, a spoil tip collapsed onto the Welsh village of Aberfan, killing 116 children and 28 adults. Steve Humphries shares the memories of that tragic day he collected from survivors, rescuers and bereaved parents

Rescue workers at the scene of the wrecked Pantglas Junior School at Aberfan, South Wales. (Getty Images)

This article first appeared in the November 2016 issue of BBC History Magazine.

At about 9.15am on Friday 
21 October 1966, spoil tip No 7 – one of seven slag heaps that loomed like 
a mountain range high above the south Wales village of Aberfan – started to move. Then, almost in the blink of an eye, the entire edifice was transformed into a 30-feet-high tsunami of sludge that slid downhill at over 80mph. Seconds later, 
a wave consisting of half a million tonnes of liquefied coal waste crashed into Aberfan. 
The wave swept across a canal and over an embankment before bearing down on the village primary school.

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