After 50 years, 
Aberfan survivor 
finally gets to thank rescuers

A schoolboy miraculously pulled alive from the rubble of the Aberfan disaster has met two of his rescuers for the first time – five decades on.

In October 1966, the mining village of Aberfan in south Wales was hit by an avalanche of coal waste which claimed the lives of 114 children and 28 adults.

Aerial image of the aftermath of the landslide which engulfed Pantglas Junior School - killing 114 children and 28 adults in Aberfan

Aerial image of the aftermath of the landslide which engulfed Pantglas Junior School - killing 114 children and 28 adults in Aberfan

Youngsters in Pantglas Junior School were just getting ready for lessons when without warning, 1.5 million cubic feet of liquefied slurry plummeted down a hillside and almost wiped out an entire generation.

Now almost 50 years to the day, survivors of the tragedy have shared their stories in a new BBC documentary revealing how the events of that fateful day left not only physical but also emotional scars.

Phil Thomas was 10 when the 150,000 tonnes of waste smashed into his school and a number of neighbouring houses with a tsunami-like force.

En-route its final resting place, the avalanche had fractured two pipelines and sent hundreds of gallons of water rushing into already saturated sludge.

Aberfan disaster survivors and brothers Phil (left) and Alan Thomas

Aberfan disaster survivors and brothers Phil (left) and Alan Thomas

The youngster lay trapped under a collapsed wall in the dark of the brown-black debris while a group of rescuers faced a battle against the clock.

He was pulled from the rubble by a group of six men – who included Len Haggett and Dave Thomas.

Former firefighter Mr Haggett has publicly retold of the dramatic rescue for the first time in in the BBC documentary Surviving Aberfan – which saw an emotional reunion between the pair.

He said: “The in-rush of water started and you could hear people calling ‘the water was coming’ ... and we had to hold his head up out the water.

Aberfan survivor Phil Thomas (left) meeting two of his rescuers - Len Haggett (right) and Dave Thomas

Aberfan survivor Phil Thomas (left) meeting two of his rescuers - Len Haggett (right) and Dave Thomas

“How we lifted that wall that day I don’t know, but raise it we did and long enough to get our arms around his shoulders.

“If he hadn’t have come out he would have drowned ... the fact that a young boy had been saved ... there was elation.”

Mr Thomas, 60, who also lost three fingers that day, was brimming with emotion after finally meeting the duo who plucked him from certain death.

Fighting back the tears, he said: “Until this day, I never knew who dug me out. I would like to thank both of you.”

His amazing reunion is one of several and moving accounts featuring in the BBC programme.

School dinner lady Nansi Williams grabbed a group of children and flung herself on top of them to take the brunt of the impact when she realised something terrible was happening.

Karen Thomas, one of the pupils saved by the heroic act, has made regular visits to Mrs Williams’ grave ever since.

“It’s only down to Nansi that I am here today,” she added.

The disaster unfolded after millions of cubic metres of excavated mining debris from the Merthyr Vale Colliery came thundering down the hillside.

The waste material had been piled high on the side of Mynydd Merthyr – above the village of Aberfan – for years even though there were numerous underground springs below.

And at 9.15am on a foggy October 21, 20ft of material from Tip Number Seven became dislodged with devastating consequences.

The horrendous aftermath was all the more painful to deal with given that there had been previous concerns from villagers.

l Surviving Aberfan will be shown on BBC Four at 9pm tomorrow.