LONDON - Millvina Dean, 97, the last survivor of the sinking of RMS Titanic, died yesterday in her sleep, her friend Gunter Babler said.
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 that staff discovered Ms. Dean in her room yesterday 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. She was one of 706 people - mostly women and children - who survived. Her father was among the 1,517 who died.
Babler, who is head of the Switzerland Titanic Society, said Ms. 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-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 members 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 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 his wife and children out of their 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.
Wrapped in a sack against the Atlantic chill, Ms. 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," 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 city 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 mementoes to raise funds, prompting her friends to set up a fund to subsidize her nursing-home fees. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, the stars of the film Titanic, pledged their support to the fund.
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.
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.
Charles Haas, president of the New Jersey-based Titanic International Society, said that Ms. Dean was happy to talk to children about the Titanic. "She had a soft spot for children," he said. "I remember watching when little tiny children came over clutching pieces of paper for her to sign. She was very good with them, very warm."
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. The second-last survivor, Barbara Joyce West Dainton of Truro, England, died in October 2007 at 96.