I know I never did, until now. The remarkable story of the first victim of the 9/11 attacks, a former IDF commando,
and his doomed attempt to stop Al- Qaeda Muslim terrorists who had hijacked a plane destined for the Twin Towers. Internet entrepreneur Danny Lewin, 31, was travelling on American Airlines Flight 11 when it was hijacked just 16 minutes into a journey from Boston to Los Angeles as it passed over Worcester, Massachusetts.
Daily Mail A veteran of an elite unit in the Israeli Defense Forces who understood Arabic, Lewin appears to have immediately understood what was happening and challenged the terrorists, who were armed with box-cutters and knives. It was an act of extraordinary courage which was to cost him his life. As the former commando fought with Satam al-Suqami, one of the five who had taken the plane, he was fatally stabbed.
Half an hour later, at 8.46am, the Boeing 767 became the first plane to crash into the Twin Towers. All 81 passengers, nine crew members and the two pilots died.
The story of Lewin’s unimaginable bravery has only just been made public in a 2013 biography “No Better Time: The Brief, Remarkable Life of Danny Lewin, the Genius Who Transformed the Internet.”
Author Molly Knight said she wanted to write about Lewin’s life because she felt it deserved to be celebrated. She told CNN: ‘It was about the way he lived. I felt like if he was motivating me as much, I felt like I could do the same for readers.’
The writer was able to piece together his last moments from the desperate accounts of two flight attendants who had been in contact with the ground as the tragedy unfolded. They told authorities that a passenger seated in 9B – now believed to be Lewin – had been killed as he tackled one of the terrorists.
Early reports by the 9/11 Commission claimed that Lewin had been shot but after extensive interviews with officials on the ground who had spoken to the attendants, it was concluded that al-Suqami had slit Lewin’s throat.
Lewin’s best friend Marco Greenberg told Slate: ‘He was the first victim of the first war of the 21st century.’ Lewin is survived by his wife Anne and sons Eitan and Itamar.
As news of terrorist attacks spread around the world, it was Lewin’s own technology which allowed the internet to keep up with the increased amount of traffic. The Israeli-American co-founded Akamai Technologies which is responsible for more than 30 per cent of the world’s internet traffic.
His company’s October 1999 share market float made Lewin an overnight billionaire and he became one of the world’s richest high-tech entrepreneurs before he was even 30-years-old. The multibillion dollar company’s clients today still include Sony, Apple and News Corp.
But before his business success, Lewin, who was brought up in Denver, Colorado, before moving to Israel with his family when he was 14, served with one of the country’s most elite counter-terrorism unit, Sayeret Mat’kal. After reaching the rank of captain, he decided to return to graduate school to study math and computer science.
He studied at the Israeli Institute of Technology before going on to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on a full scholarship where he came up with a ground-breaking idea to allow the internet to work more efficiently and at faster speeds.
The set of algorithms he created and called ‘consistent hashing’ formed the basis of his company Akamai which he set up with MIT professor Tom Leighton in 1998.
Akamai is responsible for keeping some of the world’s most popular websites running smoothly, including Facebook and iTunes.
Lewin had boarded Flight 11, which took off shortly before 8am on September 11, to attend a Akamai business meeting in Los Angeles. After the terrorist attacks, almost every major news site remained up and running that day despite the hug volume of traffic because of Lewin’s creation.
If he was still alive today, it is likely he would be placed in the ranks alongside Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.