Women in Transportation History: Brittany Catanzaro, Ferry Captain

On January 15, 2009, New York Waterway ferry captain and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) reservist Brittany Catanzaro and her crew played a crucial lifesaving role for the passengers of an Airbus A320 after that plane had made an emergency landing on the Hudson River. This landing was made necessary because the aircraft (US Airways Flight 1549), which had just departed from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport for Charlotte, North Carolina, accidentally struck a flock of birds in the sky.

This collision resulted in the plane losing all power engine power. Since the plane’s low altitude made it impossible to go to any of the local airports for an emergency landing, pilots Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles instead maneuvered the aircraft onto the surface of the river. As captain of the NY Waterway ferry Governor Thomas H. Kean, the 20-year-old Catanzaro piloted the vessel to the site of the potential disaster so that she and her crew could help rescue the 155 people on board the now-stranded plane.

The Governor Thomas H. Kean and her fellow NY Waterway ferry Thomas Jefferson arrived at that location within just a few minutes after the emergency landing. Numerous other boats, including a few from the USCG, soon showed up as well to assist with rescue efforts. Catanzaro and her crew quickly transported two dozen of the plane’s passengers to safety.  

“I didn’t have time to be scared,” Catanzaro later recounted in a interview with Soundings Magazine. “I just reacted like I am trained to do. The plane was drifting downriver very rapidly and I had to maneuver the boat to stay with the plane while maintaining a safe distance so that my crew could pull people out. I didn’t see or hear the plane go down.”

As Catanzaro likewise noted in that interview, her strong interest in waterborne transportation began at a very early age because of her father’s 60-foot (18.3-meter)-long motor yacht. “My dad docked our family boat next to where the old NY Waterway terminal used to be,” Catanzaro explained. “I grew up around the crew. I was offered an opportunity at NY Waterway when I was training with the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve. I started as a deckhand and worked my way to captain.”

Cantanzaro was promoted to captain only about five months before the Flight 1549 incident. She was NY Waterway’s first female captain. Catanzaro, who was still 19 at the time, also became that private transportation company’s youngest captain.

Not long after the successful rescue of everyone on board Flight 1549, the USCG formally honored personnel who had taken part in that effort. As member of the USCG Reserve, Catanzaro received that military branch’s Meritorious Public Service Award.

“I get to be on the water every day, and I get to hang out with my crew,” asserted Catanzaro in her interview with Soundings Magazine. “I’m on the water all the time, and you get to see a lot of different things. There are cruise liners and all kinds of crafts. And the weather changes keep me on my toes. Every day is different.”

Photo Credit: U.S. Coast Guard

For more information on Brittany Catanzaro, please check out  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brittany_Catanzaro and https://www.soundingsonline.com/news/qa-with-brittany-catanzaro

A video of Catanzaro talking about the emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dL8iAddRKu0

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