July 9, 2012 by dontbringlulubook
British TV Reporter, Ron Onions, who covered the Apollo 11 story and the major earthquake in Peru amongst many others, described his involvement in the reporting of the Aberfan disaster as “the most heart rending story of my whole career”.
Aberfan – a small Welsh mining village utterly destroyed by the events on the morning of October 21st 1966 when the catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip that had had millions of cubic metres of excavated mining debris from the National Coal Board’s Merthyr Vale Colliery deposited on the side of Mynydd Merthyr above the village meant a mountain of coal waste suddenly slid down onto a farm, some terraced cottages and finally Pantglas Junior School, burying 116 children and 28 adults beneath a mass of 40,000 cubic metres of thick mud and rubble up to 33ft deep.
The landslide hit at 9.15am, minutes after the children had finished their assembly by singing “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and headed for their classrooms on the last day before their half-term holiday – a few were pulled out alive in that first hour after the water-saturated debris hit the school at high speed but beyond 11am no more survivors were found and the operation to recover all the bodies took nearly a week.
Ron Onions, reporter Robert Williams and the Deputy Editor of the BBC TV News, Andrew Todd, were taken to the village and, along with the film crew, based themselves in the Miners’ Social Centre. This was just at the time that TV reporting was changing and with BBC2’s nightly new summary ‘Newsroom’ – longer than any previous news output – meant that the new way forward for presenting news was to do so through the way individuals themselves were affected by particular news events. Ron recalls how there was mud and slime everywhere and the coverage they took was then edited in Cardiff and then transmitted to London –in contrast to many reports of the general insensitive behaviour of the media, the footage they shot on the 27th October 1966 on the day of the mass burial at the Bryntaf Cemetery in Aberfan attended by more than 2000 people was done without any added commentary. Ron himself felt that any added voiceover would be both superfluous and intrusive on the families’ grief. His eldest daughter, Sarah, was 8 years old at the time – the age of many of the children who so suddenly lost their lives.
Merthyr Vale Colliery was closed in 1989. As George Thomas, Minister of State for Wales said at the time “A generation of children has been wiped out. “