The Wild True Story Of 'Crane Lady'

On May 30, 1985, Brigitte Gerney was walking home from the dentist in Manhattan when a construction crane collapsed on top of her, crushing her legs and trapping her against the sidewalk for six hours. She would later tell The New York Times that she actually heard the sound of her bones cracking under the weight of the heavy machinery. All the eyes of the media were on her as rescuers worked to free her. They christened her the "Crane Lady," and Gerney became an absolute legend after she not only survived, but also recuperated well enough to walk again.

Her rescue was documented on live television, as the Big Apple pretty much shut down and watched with bated breath to see if she would pull through. Police stopped traffic to transport her to the hospital, where she stayed for more than three weeks recovering. During this time, she received a phone call from President Ronald Reagan and a visit from First Lady Nancy.

Gerney was the mother of two young children. She was also a widow, having lost her husband to colon cancer two years prior. She knew she had to survive for her kids' sake. "They had lost their father, and I was the mother," she said later. "Children need their mother. I knew I had to live."

'Crane Lady' Brigitte Gerney lived a life of tragedy, but had a great attitude

The collapse of the crane that day wasn't the only tragic event in Brigitte Gerney's life. Nor was it even the only accident she experienced with machines. In 1982 she suffered serious injuries after a ski lift gondola she was riding in Switzerland somehow came loose and plummeted to the slopes below. Before that, in 1980, she survived a diagnosis of lung cancer. She lost her first son in a drowning incident when he was just a toddler, as well. And her luck didn't seem to change after she survived the crane accident, either. She fell in love with a doctor involved in her treatment and planned to marry him, but a disgruntled former patient of his shot and killed him before they could start a life together.

Despite the hardships, Gerney kept a positive attitude throughout her life. Her son said that she was the kind of person who would say that "only in New York" would a crane fall and crush her legs, but that the city is also the only place that would stop everything on a dime to save her and find the best doctors to rebuild them. She even asked the judge to have leniency on the man operating the crane that fell on her, even though he was uncertified and filling in for someone who had gone home. Brigitte Gerney died on June 11, 2021, at the age of 85.