12 Titanic survivors whose stories reveal the tragedy’s true scope

From the heroic to the tragic, these stories of Titanic survivors are still haunting more than a century after the doomed ship's demise.

Titanic Survivors Lifeboat

Wikimedia CommonsThe last lifeboat to leave the doomed ship carries Titanic survivors to safety.

Of the estimated 2,224 passengers and crew aboard the Titanic when it struck an iceberg and sank on April 15, 1912, some 1,500 died in the cold waters of the North Atlantic. A mere 700 people lived on. These are some of the most powerful stories of the Titanic survivors.

Titanic Survivors: The “Navratil Orphans”

Navratil Orphans Titanic Survivors

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Michel Navratil married Marcelle Caretto in London in 1907 and had two sons, Michel Jr. and Edmond, by 1912. That year, Navratil believed that his wife was having an affair and during a weekend apart, decided to take the boys to America. Buying a second-class ticket for the Titanic, he took his sons on the ship under the alias Louis M. Hoffman.

On the night that the ship struck the iceberg, Navratil was able to get the boys aboard a lifeboat. Michel Jr. later recounted that just before placing him in the boat, his father gave him a final message, “My child, when your mother comes for you, as she surely will, tell her that I loved her dearly and still do. Tell her I expected her to follow us, so that we might all live happily together in the peace and freedom of the New World.”

 

Soon after speaking those words, Michel Navratil died in the disaster. His sons, however, survived.

Following the wreck, the Navratil orphans stayed in New York until their mother recognized the boys from newspaper photos and was able to reunite with her sons on May 16, more than a month after the ship sank.

“The Unsinkable Molly Brown”

Margaret Brown

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Famously known as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” Margaret Brown earned that nickname by effectively taking over one of the ship’s lifeboats and threatening to throw the quartermaster overboard if he didn’t turn back to look for more Titanic survivors, as she insisted.

Reports vary as to whether or not the lifeboat actually turned back and/or picked up any survivors, but Brown earned her fame and eventually saw both a Broadway musical and a film adaptation named in her honor.

Titanic Survivors: Eliza “Millvina” Dean

Eliza Millvina Dean

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Eliza Gladys “Millvina” Dean holds the special honor of being both the youngest passenger onboard the Titanic at just two months old as well as the last survivor of the wreck, passing away at the age of 97 in May of 2009.

Dean, her mother, and her brother were all rescued and returned to England aboard the RMS Adriatic. Aboard that ship, she became a celebrity and a symbol of hope as other survivors were pleased to see that such a small baby had survived. Many took photographs with her, with several of them appearing in newspapers.

However, it wasn’t until Dean reached old age that her Titanic fame caught up with her again and she started participating in events related to the disaster. Ultimately, Dean died in 2009 and her ashes were scattered at the docks in Southhampton, the place from which the Titanic had set sail.

“Miss Unsinkable” Violet Jessop

Violet Jessop Uniform

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The Titanic had two sister ships, one of which also sank and another that was involved in two devastating collisions yet managed to stay afloat. And one woman, Violet Jessop, was unlucky enough to have been aboard all three ships as they met with disaster, yet lucky enough to have survived all three.

Violet Jessop was an ocean liner stewardess who survived the sinking of the Titanic as well as the 1916 sinking the HMHS Britannic and the collision of the RMS Olympic with a British warship in 1911.

During the sinking of the Titanic, she was ordered to the top deck to help non-English speaking passengers. According to her memoirs, she watched as lifeboats were loaded and eventually was ordered onto lifeboat 16. As the boat was being lowered into the water, one of the officers onboard gave her a baby to look after. While aboard the rescue ship Carpathia, a woman, presumably the baby’s mother, grabbed the child and ran off without saying a word.

Jessop retired from her maritime career in 1950 with the nickname “Miss Unsinkable,” and died of congestive heart failure in 1971 at age 83.

Titanic Survivors: Frederick Fleet

Frederick Fleet

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As one of the ship’s lookouts, Frederick Fleet was one of the first two people to spot the iceberg and then proclaim “Iceberg! Right ahead!”

After the collision, Fleet manned one of the lifeboats and got many others to safety. But after returning to land, his welcome wasn’t always warm.

He endured many interrogations designed to determine whether or not the disaster could have been avoided, and always insisted that he could have prevented it if he’d just had binoculars.

 

As he reached old age, he suffered from depression and ultimately killed himself in 1965.

Masabumi Hosono

Masabumi Hosono

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The only Japanese person aboard the Titanic, Masabumi Hosono ultimately endured the scorn of his countrymen for taking a spot on a lifeboat and not going down with the ship.

As the ship sank, Hosono stood aboard the deck and wrestled with the decision as to whether or not he should attempt to board a lifeboat. Eventually, after another man jumped into a boat, Hosono took advantage of the fact that nearby crewmen were distracted and snuck into a boat himself.

After making it back to land, Hosono reportedly lost his job, suffered ridicule in the press, and served as a source of shame for his family even after his death in 1997.

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