LONDON — Millvina Dean, the last survivor of the sinking of RMS Titanic, died Sunday (May 31, 2009) in her sleep, her friend Gunter Babler said. She was 97.
Babler said Ms. Dean's longtime companion, Bruno Nordmanis, called him in Switzerland to say that Ms. Dean died at her nursing home in southern England, on the 98th anniversary of the launch of the ship that was billed as "practically unsinkable."
He said staff discovered Ms. Dean in her room Sunday morning. Babler said she had been hospitalized with pneumonia last week but had recovered and returned to the nursing home.
Ms. Dean was just over 2 months old when the Titanic hit an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912. The ship sank in less than three hours.
Ms. Dean was one of 706 people — mostly women and children — who survived. Her father was among the 1,517 who died.
The pride of the White Star line, the Titanic had a mahogany-paneled 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.
Ms. 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.
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 sea water 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," Ms. Dean told the British Broadcasting Corp. in 1998.
Her 2-year-old brother, Bertram, and her mother, Georgette, also survived.
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 died in 1975.
Ms. Dean spent most of her life in the English seaside town of Southampton, Titanic's home port. She never married.
She began to take part in Titanic-related activities in the 1980s, after the discovery of the ship's wreck in 1985 sparked renewed interest in the disaster.
Ms. Dean opposed attempts to raise the wreck 13,000 feet from the sea bed.
"I don't want them to raise it. I think the other survivors would say exactly the same," she said in 1997. "That would be horrible."
The last survivor with memories of the sinking — and the last American survivor — was Lillian Asplund, who was 5 at the time. She died in May 2006 at the age of 99.