x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Last survivor of Titanic dies at 97

Millvina Dean, who as a baby was wrapped in a sack and lowered into a lifeboat in the frigid North Atlantic, has died.

Millvina Dean smiles as she signs a Titanic movie poster at the Titanic Historical Society's convention in Springfield, Mass, in 1998.
Millvina Dean smiles as she signs a Titanic movie poster at the Titanic Historical Society's convention in Springfield, Mass, in 1998.

LONDON // Millvina Dean, who as a baby was wrapped in a sack and lowered into a lifeboat in the frigid North Atlantic, has died, having been the last survivor of 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic. She was 97 years old, and 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. It was the 98th anniversary of the launch of the ship that was billed as "practically unsinkable".

She died in her sleep early Sunday, her friend Gunter Babler said. Mr Babler said Ms Dean's longtime companion, Bruno Nordmanis, called him in Switzerland to say staff at Woodlands Ridge Nursing Home in Southampton discovered Ms Dean in her room Sunday morning. He said she had been hospitalised with pneumonia last week but she had recovered and returned to the home. A staff nurse at the nursing home said late Sunday that no one would comment until administrators came on duty Monday morning. Ms Dean was just over two months old when the Titanic hit an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912. The ship sank in less than three hours. She was one of 706 people - mostly women and children - who survived. Her father was among the 1,517 who died. Mr Babler, who is head of the Switzerland Titanic Society, said Dean was a "very good friend of very many years.

"I met her through the Titanic society but she became a friend and I went to see her every month or so," he said. The pride of the White Star line, the Titanic had a mahogany-panelled smoking room, a swimming pool and a squash court. But it did not have enough lifeboats for all of its 2,200 passengers and crew. 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, Missouri, 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 600km south-east 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. Ms 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. Some people thought the ship was unsinkable," she told the British Broadcasting Corp in 1998. Wrapped in a sack against the Atlantic chill, she 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," Ms 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. Ms 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.

Born in London on Feb 2, 1912, Elizabeth Gladys "Millvina" Dean spent most of her life in the English seaside town of Southampton, Titanic's home port. She never married, and worked as a secretary, retiring in 1972 from an engineering firm. She moved into a nursing home after breaking her hip about three years ago. She had to sell several Titanic mementos to raise funds, prompting her friends to set up a fund to subsidise her nursing home fees.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, the stars of the film Titanic, pledged their support to the fund last month. For most of her life Ms Dean had no contact with Titanic enthusiasts and rarely spoke about the disaster. She said she had seen the 1958 film A Night to Remember with other survivors, but found it so upsetting that she declined to watch any other attempts to put the disaster on celluloid, including the 1997 blockbuster Titanic.

* AP