What Happened At Aberfan? This Is The Full Story | The Crown

What Happened At Aberfan? This Is The Full Story | The Crown

– [Narrator] In 1966, a
disaster scarred a village in South Wales. What happened was unthinkable. A coal tip on a mountain
slope above the village of Alba Van collapsed, crashing directly into a local school below it. In an instant, much of a
village’s generation was lost. Many of those who
survived were traumatized for the rest of their lives,
but what does this tragedy have to do with Queen Elizabeth? That’s what episode three of The Crown’s third season deals with as we see Queen Elizabeth
grapple with what it means to be the stoic figurehead of a nation in the face of unimaginable tragedy. It also shows how the
events which followed reportedly became one
of the greatest regrets of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. In this video, we’re
going to tell you more about what happened
some of the reasons why and what happened afterwards. As with everything in The Crown, the episode was meticulously
researched, but it is a drama, so some creative license is used to drive the personal stories. Class is a recurring theme
in this series of The Crown, but it’s never more pertinent
than in this episode. So to understand the story behind it, you also need to understand
the history of mining towns and villages in South Wales. From the 19th century until
the early 20th century, coal mining was crucial to Wales and parts of the north of England. Mines provided jobs which
in turn created pockets of mining communities
spreading across areas like the South Wales Valleys. By the 1960s, mining
was beginning to dwindle due to competition from oil, yet coal mining still
fuelled the community of not just Alba Van, but
neighboring villages too. Think of the mine as the
central hub of this village. If no one in your family worked there, someone you knew definitely did. It was dangerous work, but
people assumed it was dangerous for miners, not their families. Surrounding these mines
were huge tips built from waste produced
during the mining process. The tips were known to slip. In fact, there were three
previous significant tip slides, but none to the extent tip
number seven did in 1966. That tip in particular
had concerned the people of Alba Van for years
because it was located almost directly above
Pantglas Junior School, the local primary. What’s more, it was
discovered the coal waste lay on top of a mountain spring which meant the whole thing
was dangerously fluid. At the time, the mines were
run by the National Coal Board. A statutory corporation set
up by the British government when mines were nationalized in 1947. Three years before the disaster, a waterworks engineer
wrote to the coal board about the danger that it posed. Local councillors also
warned of the danger. Parents from Pantglas
school signed a petition, they were ignored. – [Man] We’ve been
telling everyone for years those tips were dangerous. – [Narrator] Here’s
what happened that day. For weeks beforehand, the
Mirtha Valley had been hit by a torrential downpour,
turning the tip to slurry. Workers arrived in the morning to find it had sunk
dangerously by about 10 feet. There were no phone lines
working up there that day, so workers hurried their
way down the mountain to warn bosses of the danger. (people arguing) But it was too late. The tip began to fall at
approximately 9:15 a.m., just as children had
sat down on the morning of what was the last day before half-term. If the tip had fallen
just 20 minutes earlier, the story may well have
been entirely different. The teachers had just begun
taking their attendance when the landslide hit. An avalanche of liquefied
slurry tore down the mountain, reaching speeds of 30
to 40 miles per hour. Survivors who are inside the school described hearing a thunderous
noise like a jet plane as the avalanche approached. As had long been feared by those who had warned the National Coal Board, the mud crashed directly into the school and many of the neighboring houses. It happened so quickly, there
was barely time to react. As soon as news of the tragedy spread, people from across South Wales
arrived Alba Van to help. Miners found themselves
digging for their own children. Initially, they worried about bringing in mechanical diggers, fearing their weight would
crush anyone trapped underneath, so many began digging
with their bare hands. Whenever anyone in the rescue efforts thought they heard someone
buried under the heap of dirt, a whistle was blown, stopping
everyone in their tracks. (whistle blown) While some children were pulled out alive, the rescue effort was
unimaginably difficult due to the sheer amount
of hardened slurry. In the end, 116 children and
28 adults were found dead and it took a week to find them all because there was so much to dig through. As shown in the episode, the local Chapel became
a makeshift mortuary. In the show, Queen Elizabeth
eventually visits Alba Van following the threat of
criticism from the press. – The very last thing Emergency
and Rescue Services need when they’re working against
the clock is a Queen to arrive. – [Narrator] In real life, it did indeed take the Queen eight
days to visit Alba Van. Later in 2002, it was reported the Queen said her biggest regret
was not visiting Alba Van immediately after the disaster. Buckingham Palace has never
confirmed nor denied this, but the Queen, out of all the Royals, has returned to Alba Van the most. What you don’t see in the
episode is what happened later. PTSD was common in those children who did survive the disaster. Many of them suffering
from survivor’s guilt as they attempted to come to terms both with the death of their friends and with their own personal trauma. Miners too, felt overwhelming guilt, as did parents who wish
they’d stop their children from going to school that day. Bereaved parents struggled with even seeing other
children out in the streets. The entire village was in mourning. The children who died became known as Alba Van lost generation. We see a taste of their grief and anger towards the National Coal
Board in the episode. – Will you both accept responsibility? (crowd shouting) – [Narrator] This anger spilled into the official inquest into the deaths. One father shouted. – Buried alive by the National Coal Board. That’s what I want to see
written on my child’s desk. – [Narrator] Another person
who didn’t go to the site of the disaster immediately
was the chairman of the National Coal Board, Lord Robins. Preferring instead to continue with a ceremony installing
him as the Chancellor of the University of Surrey. The day after his eventual
visit, he was interviewed by a television news team claiming no one from the board knew there was
a spring underneath the tip. The NCB resisted taking the blame, claiming the disaster was
down to the heavy rain and other geological factors. – National Coal Board
cannot accept responsibility for the weather. – [Narrator] Ultimately, a
tribunal placed the blame for the disaster entirely with the NCB, criticizing a complete lack of policy when it came to dealing with the tips. (light eerie music) It was the largest
tribunal in British history with around 130 witnesses,
yet no one was prosecuted and no one from the board
lost their job as a result. Lord Robins publicly
offered his resignation. – But I felt the circumstances were such that my resignation should
be offered and therefore, it’s really a matter for
the government to decide whether they accept my resignation. – [Narrator] But papers
released decades later revealed he had only done so when he was assured his job was safe. Not only did he remain in his post, he was appointed to chair a committee which made recommendations about health and safety regulations. In the years since the disaster, it also emerged how badly the
victims families were treated as the NCB attempted to
dodge responsibility. A study from 2000 from the
board and the government of the day were extremely insensitive to the victims’ families. Dr. Ian Machlin, one of
the authors of the report said victims families were
treated as troublemakers and there was further hurt
still for those families. A disaster fund set up by
the mayor of Merthyr Tydfil had drawn donations
from all over the world with a final total of around 1.75 million. As legal battles over the fund continued, residents from the village
had begun a campaign to remove the tips surrounding Alba Van, fearing they could collapse once again, but the NCB refused to take
financial responsibility for the removal of the tips. In the end, the government took a 150,000 from the fund to make up the funds needed to get rid of the tips. It was yet another blow to the community, described by the press
as the second disaster to befall Alba Van. That money was only repaid in 1997, but without accounting for inflation. With inflation, that
amount would have been over a million pounds. The Crown’s writer, Peter Morgan
said he had always planned to cover Alba Van in the series. The team behind the show
worked with the people of the village to ensure
the story was told with sensitivity, as well
as to bring the history to a wider, global audience. The community was involved
from the very beginning. Some people who were
relatives or neighbors of those who died in a Berlin appeared as extras in some scenes. (mumbles) Sowen, male voice
choir which was set up after the disaster sings in the episode. (male choir singing) The team decided not to
film in Alba Van itself, choosing nearby Kumamon instead. An empty school there became Pantglas, while the towering tip
was recreated in CGI. A rain machine recreated
the torrential downpour which fell on the valleys in the days leading up to the disaster. More than 50 years on, the trauma following the
disaster still remains as producers found when
they held a public meeting with people from the village. Everyone at that meeting, on set and at the subsequent screening
of the episode held in Alba Van were offered therapy. It’s important to remember the
deep trauma Alba Van caused, not just to the area,
but to Wales as a whole as it became a symbol
of corporate negligence towards the working classes. Today, Alba Van is a very different place to the village we see in The Crown. The Mercer Vale (mumbles) closed in 1989, as have most of the mines in South Wales and the tips are long gone. The school has been replaced
by a memorial garden, but the village has never forgotten what happened there 53 years ago. (light electronic music)

81 thoughts on “What Happened At Aberfan? This Is The Full Story | The Crown

  • I had never heard of this disaster before watching S3, so I had no idea what was coming at the beginning of the episode. How heartbreaking 💔

  • Thought-provoking. Aberfan in 1966 – somewhat similarly to Lockerbie over twenty years later in 1988 – is one of those scars on British society that has never quite healed. An unexpected and sudden event that took many lives, and affected many others. There is a well-known press photo from the Queen’s visit to Aberfan eight days after the event – interestingly, not shown here – with a deeply pained expression on her face. It is one of the very few times when Her Majesty has shown this degree of emotion in public. If Aberfan is indeed is one of the Queen’s biggest regrets of her reign, then that it is entirely believable.

  • I couldn't finish this episode in one sitting. I was crying so bad I had to turn it off and wait to finish it when I was in a better frame of mind.

  • I am from Merthyr Tydfil. Those poor children. I sobbed from the beginning of this episode. Health and Safety was simply not being followed and none of those at the top paid for it. Disgusting.

  • Wonderful episode, fantastic video. Episode 3 is among the best hours of television I've ever watched. The callow, unfeeling response by the government, their refusal to take responsibility, is infuriating, even decades later. The poor people of that town. What a staggering, heartbreaking, and entirely preventable loss of young life.

  • I remember the horror of that day so clearly and 'The Crown' replicated that sense of utter catastrophe and appalling heartbreak so perfectly I cried most of the way through it.
    I grew up in a mining community and felt an affinity with those poor families. Their loss and grief was still unimaginable – how they survived is beyond me. It stands as testament to the strength and determination of the Welsh people. Their loss just cannot be calculated, the sadness is beyond comprehension.
    Everyone involved in the making of the episode is to be congratulated, but I have to admit, I would not wish to watch it again.

  • This was an excellent piece. I had never heard of Aberfan before and it is amazing that this could have been forgotten.

  • these videos are so good, the show is a great drama but I love seeing a more factual look at the events, thanks for this!

  • I Live in Cardiff, the capital of South Wales just 1 Hour drive from Aberfan. Couple of months back I visited PantGlas Primary school and all I could say is that the experience was spine-chilling to see all of the graves of the children and teachers, god bless to those who lost their lives that day.

  • I think I remember reading an article about when they were filming the scenes in the town, they had therapists on site to talk to the locals who were there as extras. There was a lot of underlying trauma in the locals and they finally had a chance to talk with a professional about it. It's kinda scary how long they held this tragedy over themselves.

  • I dont know about you guys european. For us asian, waering red like the queen go in to such a mourning event like this was very inapproprite.
    Almost like laugh in funeral for us.

  • Tragedy. Negligence. Incompetence. Lies.

    HBO needs to do a mini-series about this. From the same creators of Chernobyl.

  • It’s sad this reminds me of Grenfell (government insensitivity, ignoring years of complaints and the culpable evading responsibility).

  • Every YouTube video about this tragedy now has its comments section filled with people just learning about the incident for the first time. As an American, thank you of educating me!

  • In 2015, I went to Cardiff to see one of my favourite singers (Judy Collins, if you must know). I took advantage of the fact that I was there to visit the Bay (and the Doctor Who Experience), and along the way, I went to the Pierhead building. In a room on the first floor was exposed a book featuring the names of the victims. It reaped my heart from my chest. Poor kids. There are simply no words. BTW, In 2019, when I went back to Cardiff, that book was no longer there.

  • Great job of Netflix and Peter Morgan for taking on such a tragic event with much sensitivity and tact. Discussing the topic beforehand with the survivors, relatives and neighbors was definitely the right call. I’ve never heard of the Aberfan disaster but I can’t stop thinking about it ever since watching the episode. My heart, even though i’m 50+ years late goes out to Aberfan.

  • So many parallels with Grenfell – ignoring the warnings, passing the blame, the insensitivity and broken promises in the aftermath, delay in official response and presence.

  • I’m not blaming ANY of the families because they didn’t have the knowledge the government did about the extent but if there was even and ounce of concern about the school being in such a disaster I would campaign to have lessons be taught elsewhere until something changed

  • I'm learning a lot about the cast system in your society. Amazing that it's changed so little in a thousand years.

  • I knew the history of Aberfan so I was prepared, at least in theory, when I saw the episode title. But it was still like being clubbed in the gut. Those poor parents.

  • I couldn’t watch the whole of that episode. Aberfan is the first and most awful disaster I remember and I watched it (aged 13) unfold on our small black and white TV, children not much younger than me buried alive in a slag heap. Just too horrendous. I have visited the village and paid my respect at the graves/memorial but I am not yet ready to see covered in a TV drama. No-ones heads rolled……just appalling.

  • uhhh that scene where the queen goes to one of the survivor's houses and the guy tells her Mr whatever his name was lost 7 family members. 3 children and 4 nephews was it? can you even imagine? losing 3 children and then also your brother (maybe) losing 4 children. i can't imagine how those families kept going.

  • So glad, amidst this horror, that the money of Netflix went to something that was so sorely needed. Sometimes, when someone with money and power in Hollywood decides to tell a story, it can actually benefit something real, like this. All thoughts to the people of Aberfan and the nation of Wales.

  • In 2014 the town of Oso, in Washington State, suffered a landslide that killed 43 people. I had read about Aberfan as a child, decades ago, but when I saw the Oso story in the local news, I IMMEDIATELY thought about Aberfan. 🙁
    At Oso too there were attempts to bury decades-worth of warnings, so that the disaster could be written off as "unforeseen". But the Seattle Times uncovered the warnings and the victims' families received a $60 million payout.

  • it’s not the “rains fault or the ppls fault” it’s the governments fault for not listening to the public’s!!!

  • This is fantastic, thank you for explaining this awful tragedy, like most of the younger generation I didn't know about this before I saw it in the crown. These kind of videos are great as they explain the full accurate story without the drama of the show.

  • I'm a American and was only six when this happened, but for some reason I knew the story, so when this episode of The Crown started I knew what was to come, but it was still a gut wrenching thing to watch.

  • I grew up in Ireland, one of my history teachers touched on this and then never again. She said she couldn't because it brought her to tears. I never understood why. I was a kid after all. Years later, I watched this and I was in tears. I finally understood why. I am a parent myself so I can only image and maybe not imagine good enough the pain these families went through.

  • I never knew about this tragedy until I saw it dramatized on The Crown. I assumed that those responsible had been punished, or at least removed. This is a text book case of incompetence leading to tragedy. As we (humans) never seem to remember such things, I am glad that even a service dedicated to entertainment is around to remind all of us where stupidity, plus arrogance, plus power can lead us.

  • And blame was deflected from those in power as always. Just like Orgreve. Just like Hillsborough. Just like Grenfell.

  • A memorial of capitalist callousness in my opinion… and I am not just trying to blame this on some figure of hate. Not only did the Board ignore obvious and reported malfunctions for years, the (ir)responsibles was so stonecold as to initially blame the weather for the measure of the tragedy! And the worst part is it would be handled exactly like that today… Not 'wasting' any money or energy on getting the process of improvement going until something or somebody visibly suffers. What a terrible fate for all the families involved! 🙊

  • Easily preventable and a very clear example how bad governments are at everything. Do not give the power to the government they can’t be charged or held accountable. It’s truly sad anyone thinks this was corporate greed

  • No way that woman and her husband regret being distant and disfunctional. This series is just propaganda and this season is to portray a "oh poor sensitive" Charles. BS!! The thing is: For Camilla got her title Charles had to make a statement that he would not be king, BUT he never actually signed the document. At that time people were disgusted that he, whom make his wife's life true hell, with the help of his parents…would then publicly marry his mistress and bring her to join the lives of his suns. Oh well now the publicity includes a Netflix series, and a load of other BS.

  • As a Welsh man I been living in America for 5 years. I watched this episode the other day and it broke my heart and hit home for me.

  • Im from Brazil and we've had two disasters/crimes similar to this in the last couple of years… the episode was absurdly painful to watch.

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