A BBC podcast that re-examines the 1966 tragedy features survivors of the Aberfan disaster.
Gerald Kirwan, Gaynor Madgwick and Jeff Edwards were among those rescued from the rubble of Pantglas Junior School after it was demolished when a massive coal waste tip crashed down the mountainside of the Welsh mining village, killing 116 children and 28 adults.
Gaynor, who lost her younger brother Carl and older sister Marylyn in the tragedy, told BBC Sounds podcast Aberfan: Tip Number 7 how she held the hand of a dead classmate, willing it to move.
Gaynor Madgwick, Gerald Kirwan and Jeff Edwards were among the people who were rescued from the rubble at Pantglas Junior School. The school was destroyed when a huge coal waste tip collided with the mountainside of the Welsh mining community, killing 116 children. Pictured, Gaynor (fourth from right, middle row), as a schoolgirl
The children of Aberfan had grown up in the shadow of the towering No 7 tip — a man-made mountain made up of a quarter of a million tonnes of coal waste and rocks dumped by the National Coal Board. But disaster struck when it collapsed. Pictured, in the wake of the disaster
Gaynor, who lost her younger brother Carl, and older sister Marylyn, in the tragedy, spoke out on BBC Sounds podcast Aberfan Tip Number 7, about how she held the hand a classmate who was dead, and wished it to move. Pictured are Gaynor and Prince Charles, Jeff Edwards, and Gerald Kirwan (center).
Jeff, the last child pulled from the rubble alive was found lying alongside a little girl who had also died beside him. He remained haunted by her image for many years after the tragedy.
He said, “As time passed, her face began to puff up and her eyes started sinking into her head.” “That is what I remember over the years. It was going to cause problems many years later.
Jeff was trapped under his desk, and only because he happened upon an air pocket that kept him alive, was he still alive?
The children of Aberfan had grown up in the shadow of the towering No 7 tip — a man-made mountain made up of a quarter of a million tonnes of coal waste and rocks dumped by the National Coal Board.
They used to play in a stream that ran under the giant tips, catching tadpoles, and sliding down the lower slopes. They didn’t know that this would become their graveyard.
Tip No 7 began to slide at 9.15am on October 21, 1966. It was swollen from heavy rain. It crashed down the mountainside and engulfed everything it came across, including Pantglas Primary School where lessons had just started.
Jeff, the last child pulled from the rubble alive was found lying alongside a little girl who had also died. He remained haunted by her image for many years after the tragedy.
Jeff Edwards, shown as an adult, joins other survivors in sharing their experiences
In a matter of minutes, the village had lost half its children.
It was a disaster that the entire country shared and was perhaps the first national catastrophe to be broadcast on TV.
The BBC is now examining the circumstances that led to the disaster and the fallout in a new podcast series.
Gaynor described the moment when the children realized something was wrong.
“This noise came from nowhere within seconds. Thunder. It was the most horrible noise, thunder,” she said. “Like explosions. Rumbling. It grew louder and louder. It literally froze people in the seats.
“I just recall turning my head and seeing this dark mass. I then tried to get up to run to the door. It was completely black, it was total blackout.
“I don’t remember the slurry hitting my face. I can’t recall any pain or discomfort. I was only hurt when I woke, and was literally thrown to the back of my classroom, or into the corner.
Gaynor woke up on Gerald’s side of the room, on top her classmate.
Gaynor was standing on top of me, screaming, “I broke both my legs, I broken both my legs!” He said that he didn’t know what had happened. He thought there had been an earthquake.
Tip No 7, which was swollen by heavy rainfall, began to slide at 9.15am, October 21, 1966. It crashed down the mountainside with a loud roar that locals initially thought was a blast from thunder or a low flying plane. The aftermath of the tragedy.
“Everyone was crying and screaming. We were in limbo and thinking about “what’s the matter?” What’s the deal?
The boy who usually sat next was not there so a friend asked to take his place.
He said, “My little friend was still right next to me,” he remembered. I spoke to him, “are your okay?” He didn’t speak with me. A little bit of frothy liquid was coming from his nose and down his side. I asked him if he was alright. He didn’t respond.
They were only inches apart, but one had survived while the other had to be destroyed.
Gaynor continued: ‘I just remember just looking around, desks, chairs, mud, slurry, which was high up in the classroom.
“I just lay there, just laid there. I wasn’t screaming, I was shocked. Because the huge radiator had fallen off the wall and landed on top of me, I couldn’t see my legs. It saved me from being suffocated, I think.
After the disaster: The Queen, Prince Philip and Aberfan visit Aberfan following the October 29, 1966 disaster
A little boy was found nearby with severe injuries and blood running down his face. The second one looked like he was asleep.
‘But as children, you know immediately that your child is dead. Death, even as a child, is what you know when you are in that situation. That child is dead.
Gaynor, who had blood running down her head, remembered reaching out to touch the hand of a child who was nearby. The child had been in the classroom next to her brother Carl, but was partially forced through the wall due to the pressure.
She said, “For some reason I was just holding on to pinching this hand because this hand wanted to move.”
“When I look back now, and hear that my brother has died, I hold on to the hope that it could have just been my brother’s arm. It gives me comfort.
Aberfan: Tip Number 7 available on BBC Sounds