Skip to Content

What was the Aberfan disaster, seen in ‘The Crown’ episode 3?

Mirrorpix via Getty Images

The return of Netflix’s hit drama “The Crown” after a two-year hiatus spotlights a dark chapter in modern British history: the Aberfan disaster.

The third season charts the royal family between 1964 and 1977, with the Oscar-winning actress Olivia Colman taking over the role of Queen Elizabeth II from Claire Foy, who portrayed the monarch in her youth between 1947 and 1964.

The latest season, which was released in full on November 17, focuses on key events of the period, from the death of Winston Churchill to the Apollo moon landing.

Episode three centers on the harrowing tale of a mining disaster that struck the Welsh village of Aberfan in 1966 and the Queen’s response to the crisis.

The collapse

Disaster struck at about 9.15 on the morning of October 21, 1966, when a colliery waste heap — a pile of mining waste material — collapsed following heavy rain.

The rainfall in the days prior to the disaster had led to a build-up of water in the heap, saturating the waste material and causing 3.8 million cubic feet of rubbish to cascade down the hillside and into the village below.

The waste crashed into the Pantglas area of the village, engulfing houses and the Pantglas Junior School, where lessons had just begun for the morning.

A total of 144 people died in the disaster, including 116 children and 28 adults. Of the 240 children at the elementary school, 109 were killed, along with five teachers.

The response

Local residents and miners from the Aberfan colliery led the early rescue operation, helping to pull casualties from the wreckage.

No survivors were found within the debris after 11 a.m.

The collapse of the tip had broken two water mains, which continued to pump water into the slip, and it was not until 11.30 a.m. that the water authorities turned off the supply.

A makeshift mortuary was set up at Aberfan’s Bethania Chapel, which remained in place until November 4.

By 11.30 p.m. on the night of the disaster, 67 bodies had been brought to the mortuary and identification had begun.

Harold Wilson, Britain’s prime minister at the time, visited Aberfan on the evening of October 21 and heard accounts from police and rescue workers.

An independent inquiry was set up to look into how the disaster occurred.

Royal visit

Lord Snowdon, Princess Margaret’s husband, and the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, were the first royals to visit the devastated village.

The Queen visited Aberfan on October 29 — eight days after the disaster.

This coincided with the conclusion of the first phase of the rescue operation, with the final victim being found on October 28.

Outcome of tribunal

The following year, a public tribunal into the disaster concluded that the National Coal Board — the body that ran Britain’s then-nationalized coal industry — was to blame.

The report stated that the disaster “could and should have been prevented.”

“The report which follows tells not of wickedness but of ignorance, ineptitude and a failure in communications,” the opening pages of the report state.

No NCB staff were ever prosecuted as a result of the disaster, and the organization instead paid compensation to the families of the deceased.

Article Topic Follows: Entertainment

Jump to comments ↓

Author Profile Photo



KVIA ABC 7 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content