Who: Katie O’Shea of Oakland
What: The woman 2,000 feet up in the air monitoring traffic — and the fast voice that up until recently delivered that information to your radio. A former flight attendant, O’Shea reported traffic from the ground for almost two decades, returning to the air in 2000. For 12 years she was reigning queen of the skies, but at the very end of June, she made an announcement that her job had been eliminated. The clouds and geese will miss her, as will anyone who heard her distinctive coffee-chased-by-top-shelf-gin voice.
When: Every day from 4 to 6 p.m., despite wind and rain. “I don’t particularly like it when the weather’s bad,” O’Shea says. “Recently we had to abort two landings. I’m a fair weather flyer.” Her last flight, on Friday, June 29, was emotional. “Towards the end, I was getting choked up.” Luckily, a really bad backup on the San Rafael Bridge on a getaway weekend distracted her from those feelings and let her focus on work one last time.
Where: She and her pilot would take up a small aircraft (two years ago, helicopter use was phased out in favor of a Cessna) up from Hayward Executive Airport, flying all over the Bay Area: “We got spectacular views, a view nobody really gets even from a plane. Planes have a certain route to follow, but we got to go wherever the traffic is.”
Why: Being in the air and reporting traffic snarls were natural for O’Shea. “I’ve always had a big personality. I was a cheerleader type in high school; I was an American Airlines flight attendant; I did morning radio with Don Bleu,” she says. “You can’t fake being excited; you can’t fake a personality. So many people in radio and TV have an unbelievability factor, but I am just always who I am.”
How: Thanks to her training, she knows all the freeway exits — from a unique, aerial perspective, no less. During the helicopter years, she was only 800 feet above traffic, so visualizing problems was easy. In the Cessna, binoculars came in handy to count how many cars were involved, what was happening on the shoulder, and even the car’s color to add interest to her report. Sometimes O’Shea would happen across accidents before CHP knew of them, and in a few harrowing circumstances, she’s even seen them happen. “It’s quite startling. You see a flurry of dust and realize, ‘Oh, my god, that’s an accident.’ Sure enough, you see people getting out of cars. Just a few minutes ago, people were OK and now they’re not. It’s alarming and sad.”