TITANIC SINKING LEFT MARK ON A UTAH FAMILY

Published: Monday, July 29 1991 12:00 a.m. MDT

An April 15, 1912, the Deseret News front-page headline read, "Steamer Titanic, Struck by Iceberg, Is Now Sinking."

When the world first heard of the ill fate of the "unsinkable" luxury liner, the first concerns were whether loved ones were among survivors, especially for the Corbett family of Provo.Irene Colvin Corbett, grandmother of Salt Lake resident Don Corbett, was among those who sailed on the once-opulent ship. She was also among the 1,513 people who went down with the doomed ocean liner.

Mrs. Corbett left her husband, Walter Harris Corbett, and three children, Walter C., 5 1/2; Roene, 3 1/2; and Mack, 1 1/2, to travel to London to study nursing. Though her husband, Walter, and then-president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph F. Smith, warned her not to go to England and leave her family, the headstrong 28-year-old did anyway, Don Corbett said.

"She was an adventurous woman." She wanted to do missionary work as well, Corbett explained, and asked President Smith for his blessing.

"It was a big deal in Provo," he said. "Everyone said she shouldn't have gone against the prophet."

Seventy-nine years later, Don Corbett still has a postcard and photograph sent by his grandmother a few days before her voyage. The postcard dated April 1, 1912, reads, "Finish London soon - am going to sail on one of the biggest ships afloat; the Titanic, an American Liner." This was the last Irene Corbett was heard from.

Don Corbett has kept the postcard in a photo album since his father, Mack, the youngest of the three children, gave it to him before he died in 1966.

Irene Corbett originally had planned to sail back to New York on the Virginia but decided to sail on the Titanic after being convinced of the ship's invincibility. "She went because it was said to be unsinkable," Don Corbett said. The probability of the ship sinking was one in a million, therefore the ship was equipped with only half the number of lifeboats required for the number of passengers.

According to the Provo Herald's April 5, 1973, Centennial Edition, events leading up to the tragedy began Sunday, April 14, 1912, at 11:40 p.m., when a lookout from the ship saw an ominous shape ahead. He sounded the alarm, and the helm was turned hard and the engines were reversed. But it was too late, a 300-foot gash was ripped through the hull. (More recent evidence has revealed that seams of the hull's steel plates ruptured on impact with the ice.)

The New York Times reported on April 14, "The steamer said that immediate assistance was required. An hour afterward another message came reporting they were sinking by the head and that women were being put off in the lifeboats."

Saturday, April 19, 1912, another Deseret News article read, "Hope abandoned for Mrs. Corbett's safety . . . . (it is an) inevitable conclusion that she perished in the waves with the untold numbers whose certain death will never be recorded."

This news was especially tragic in Utah because the family learned that Irene Corbett was "not listed with survivors," according to the Provo Herald.

"She had a lot of tenderness but also a lot of resolve," said Corbett of his grandmother. He said he believes she may have given her own life to save another.

Walter C., the oldest son, is retired and lives in Salt Lake City. Roene was also a nurse and has since died. Mack, the youngest child, did public relations work for the Atomic Energy Commission and in his college years was a sports reporter for the Deseret News.

The remains of the Titanic were discovered Sept. 1, 1985, 370 miles south of Newfoundland.

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