LONDON – Millvina Dean, who as a baby was wrapped in a sack and lowered into a lifeboat in the frigid North Atlantic, died Sunday, having been the last survivor of the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic.
She was 97 years old, and she died where she had lived – in Southampton, England, the city her family had tried to leave behind when it took the ship’s ill-fated maiden voyage, bound for America.
She died in her sleep early Sunday, her friend Gunter Babler told the Associated Press. It was the 98th anniversary of the launch of the ship that was billed as “practically unsinkable.”
Babler said Dean’s longtime companion, Bruno Nordmanis, called him in Switzerland to say staff at Woodlands Ridge Nursing Home in Southampton discovered Dean in her room. He said she had been hospitalized with pneumonia last week but she had recovered and returned to the home.
Dean was just over 2 months old when the ship hit an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912. It sank in less than three hours.
Dean was one of 706 people – mostly women and children – who survived. Her father was among the 1,517 who died.
Dean’s family were steerage passengers setting out from the English port of Southampton for a new life in the United States. Her father had sold his pub and hoped to open a tobacconists’ shop in Kansas City, Mo., where his wife had relatives.
Initially scheduled to travel on another ship, the family was transferred to the Titanic because of a coal strike. Four days out of port and about 380 miles southeast of Newfoundland, the ship hit an iceberg. The impact buckled the Titanic’s hull and sent seawater pouring into six of its supposedly watertight compartments.
Dean said her father’s quick actions saved his family. He felt the ship scrape the iceberg and hustled the family out of its third-class quarters and toward the lifeboat that would take them to safety. “That’s partly what saved us – because he was so quick,” Dean told the British Broadcasting Corp. in 1998.
Wrapped in a sack against the Atlantic chill, Dean was lowered into a lifeboat. Her 2-year-old brother Bertram and her mother, Georgette, also survived.
“She said goodbye to my father and he said he’d be along later,” Dean said in 2002. “I was put into lifeboat 13. It was a bitterly cold night and eventually we were picked up by the Carpathia.”
The family was taken to New York, then returned to England with other survivors aboard the rescue ship Adriatic. Dean did not know she had been aboard the Titanic until she was 8 years old, when her mother, about to remarry, told her about her father’s death. Her mother, always reticent about the tragedy, died in 1975 at age 95.
Dean never married, and worked as a secretary, retiring in 1972 from an engineering firm.
In 1997, Dean crossed the Atlantic by boat for the first time, on the QEII luxury liner, and finally visited Kansas City, declaring it “so lovely I could stay here five years.” She was active well into her 90s, but missed the commemoration of the 95th anniversary of the disaster in 2007 after breaking her hip.