On the morning of October 21, 1966, a landslide of coal waste crashes into a small Welsh mining village, killing 116 children and 28 adults. The accident left just five survivors and wiped out half the town’s youth. The Aberfan disaster became one of the UK’s worst coal mining accidents.

The landslide sent 140,000 cubic yards of coal waste in a tidal wave 40-feet high hurtling down the mountainside where Merthyr Vale Colliery stood, destroying farmhouses, cottages, houses and part of the neighboring County Secondary School. The avalanche is thought to have been the result of shoddy construction and a build-up of water in one of the colliery’s spoil tips—piles of waste material removed during mining.

Wales was known for coal mining during the Industrial Revolution. Aberfan's colliery opened in 1869 and ran out of space for waste on the mountain valley floor by 1916. It then started tipping on the mountainside above the village and in 1966 amassed seven tips containing 2.7m cubic yards of colliery spoil.

Years before the incident, Aberfan's town council contacted the National Coal Board to express concerns over the spoil tips following a non-lethal accident on the colliery. No action was taken to address the issue at the time. The tip that fell on October 21 covered material that previously slipped.

The disaster garnered widespread national attention. Queen Elizabeth II did not visit the site until eight days after the accident; she later admitted that not going sooner is one of her biggest regrets.

The Mines and Quarries (Tips) Act was passed in 1969 to add provisions when using mining tips, among other things. 

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Battle of Ball’s Bluff

On October 21, 1861, Union troops suffer a devastating defeat in the second major engagement of the Civil War. The Battle of Ball’s Bluff in Virginia produced the war’s first martyr and led to the creation of a Congressional committee to monitor the conduct of the war. After the ...read more

President Harding publicly condemns lynching

On October 21, 1921, President Warren G. Harding delivers a speech in Alabama in which he condemns lynchings—extrajudicial murders (usually hangings) committed primarily by white supremacists against Black Americans in the Deep South and elsewhere. Although his administration was ...read more

Battle of Trafalgar

In one of the most decisive naval battles in history, a British fleet under Admiral Lord Nelson defeats a combined French and Spanish fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar, fought off the coast of Spain. At sea, Lord Nelson and the Royal Navy consistently thwarted Napoleon Bonaparte, ...read more

This Day In History: Guggenheim Museum opens in New York City

Guggenheim Museum opens in New York City

On October 21, 1959, on New York City’s Fifth Avenue, thousands of people line up outside a bizarrely shaped white concrete building that resembled a giant upside-down cupcake. It was opening day at the new Guggenheim Museum, home to one of the world’s top collections of ...read more

Thousands protest the war in Vietnam

In Washington, D.C. nearly 100,000 people gather to protest the American war effort in Vietnam. More than 50,000 of the protesters marched to the Pentagon to ask for an end to the conflict. The protest was the most dramatic sign of waning U.S. support for President Lyndon ...read more

Germans massacre men, women and children in Yugoslavia

On October 21, 1941, German soldiers go on a rampage, killing thousands of Yugoslavian civilians, including whole classes of schoolboys. Despite attempts to maintain neutrality at the outbreak of World War II, Yugoslavia finally succumbed to signing a “friendship treaty” with ...read more