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IDF Veteran Danny Lewin, the first person killed on 9/11/2001

IDF Veteran Danny Lewin, the first person killed on 9/11/2001

There were many heroes on those planes that day 15 years ago.

Each anniversary of the 9/11 attack it’s important for me to learn something new when researching a post.

In past years I’ve learned of the recording that Melissa Harrington Hughes left on her home answering machine for her husband, 9/11/01 and Memory:

And I located a recording of the chirping sound of PASS devices I remembered so well, each one representing the death of a first responder, I never have been able to erase that sound from my memory:

In 2015, I focused on the timeline of the planes hitting the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001 – 8:46 a.m. Eastern:

In 2013, I learned of Mandy’s family experience on 9/11, Remembering September 11th and the importance of loved ones and endurance:

The morning of September 11th, 2001, I was sitting in my office at a prior job, admiring the beautiful blue sky outside my window, when my phone rang.

“I can’t reach your brother anymore. His phone cut off. He was running and his phone just died,” my mother cried on the other end.

For a moment, I had no idea why she was upset or what she was talking about.  But then another line rang and a friend’s voice, equally upset, screamed to me, “They’re flying planes into buildings where your brother is.”

This year, I learned of Danny Lewin, likely the first victim of the 9/11 attack, via a 2013 book review in The Tablet magazine I saw linked on Facebook:

By most accounts, Danny Lewin was the first victim of 9/11. Seated in seat 9B aboard American Airlines flight 11, he saw Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz al-Omari, sitting just in front of him, rise and make their way to the cockpit. According to calls from flight attendants to air traffic officials, later documented in the 9/11 Commission’s report, Lewin wasted no time in acting. Having served as an officer in Sayeret Matkal, the Israel Defense Forces’ top unit, he moved to tackle the terrorists. The man in 10B, Satam al-Suqami, moved, too, producing a knife and slitting Lewin’s throat. Less than 30 minutes later, at 8:46 a.m., the plane crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

Elsewhere, in America and all over the world, people desperate for accurate information turned to the Internet for news. Straining under the overwhelming demand of tens of millions of simultaneous requests, the web’s biggest news sites threatened to collapse. Very few did, thanks in large part to the technology that Lewin himself had developed years earlier: Although only 31 at the time of his murder, he was the co-founder of Akamai, a pioneering technology company whose content routing solutions enable the seamless flow of nearly 20 percent of the web’s traffic.

I then started more research, and found this article, oddly enough at Psychology Today, The Genius Who Perished on Flight 11, which chronicled Lewin’s family and business life, and had a 1990 photo of him in his IDF uniform, and these details of the flight:

About 8:15 the bloody hijacking began. The terrorists—wielding box cutters and knives—rose from their seats in business class and began to threaten passengers and crew.  Most of what we know comes from reports by two flight attendants,  Betty Ong and Madeline Amy Sweeney, who calmly relayed the details as they unfolded. At 8:19, Ong told flight control: “The cockpit is not answering,  somebody’s stabbed in business class… I think there’s Mace… we can’t breathe… I think we’re getting hijacked.” In a separate call, Sweeney reported the plane had been hijacked and two flight attendants had been stabbed.  Sweeney also confirmed that a passenger in business class had been stabbed to death; his throat slashed by one of the terrorists. The passenger, she said, was sitting in 9B.

The 9/11 Commission concluded that in those first 20 minutes of the flight,  Mohamed Atta—the only terrorist on board trained to fly a jet—probably moved to the cockpit from his business-class seat (located near Lewin’s seat),  possibly accompanied by Abdulaziz al-Omari. As this was happening,  Lewin,  who was seated in the row just behind Atta and Omari, was stabbed in the neck by one of the hijackers—probably Satam al-Suqami, who was seated directly behind Lewin,  out of his view.

Between 8:25 and 8:32, Boston airspace managers announced that the plane had been hijacked and was heading toward New York’s airspace. At 8:44, Sweeney made her last call to ground control: “Something is wrong. We are in a rapid descent . . . We are flying low. We are flying very, very low. We are flying way too low.” Seconds later, Sweeney said, “Oh my God, we are way too low.” At 8:46, the Boeing 767 slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, killing everyone on board.

In a tragic twist of irony, that same day,  dozens of critical websites looked to Akamai for help managing an unprecedented crush of traffic. Through a fog of grief,  everyone at the company said they kept working because of Danny,  serving more than 1 trillion hits and 150 million video streams related to 9/11.

(added) In 2015, the co-founder of Akamai remembered Lewin’s legacy, Akamai CEO Dr. Tom Leighton remembers cofounder Danny Lewin, 14 years after his death on Sept. 11, 2001:

A small square outside of Akamai’s current headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts is named after Lewin. At 9:00 a.m. every year on the anniversary of Sept. 11, Akamai holds a half-hour remembrance in honor of Lewin in the square….

“I’d say it is a challenging day,” Dr. Leighton said about the anniversary in an interview with ARC. “It’s a sad reflection. On the other hand, he had an amazing life, albeit short, and amazing contributions. So, [we try] as much as possible try to reflect on the contributions he made. His spirit. His character.”

Leighton and Lewin (and another MIT grad student Preetish Nijhawan) started the concept that became Akamai in 1997 as part of MIT’s $50k Entrepreneurship Competition. The goal was to take applied mathematics and use it to speed up the delivery of content on the Internet. In 1998, Lewin won the Morris Joseph Lewin Award for Best Masterworks Thesis Presentation….

A painted portrait of Lewin hangs in the lobby of Akamai’s Kendall Square headquarters, right outside of company’s famous NOCC (network operations command center) room on the first floor. A honor called The Danny Lewin Award is given to Akamai employees that best represent Lewin’s tenacity, mathematical accomplishments and service to the company. A blood drive and various other charitable initiatives named after Lewin take place during the week of Sept. 11 every year.

Certainly, the character and drive of Lewin is still a constant presence at Akamai, even more than a decade after his passing.

“His spirit lives on here in the culture. Even though it is sad, it is in some sense a remembrance and celebration of the great things about Danny,” Leighton said.

[Danny Lewin Memorial Park, Cambridge, MA]

[Danny Lewin Memorial Park, Cambridge, MA]

(added) The Times of Israel today carries a column by Micah Lakin Avni, one of Lewin’s friends, 9/11 — The Day Israel Lost Her Future Prime Minister:

Fifteen years ago today, my friend Danny Lewin was murdered by Jihadi terrorists aboard American Airlines Flight 11. He was 31-years-old…. I knew Danny well; there is no question in my mind that he fought the terrorists on Flight 11. His DNA was hardwired that way….

Much has been written about Danny over the past 15 years; most of it quite accurate. Danny was indeed larger than life: smarter, stronger, more driven, more charismatic, and more energetic than anyone that I have ever met. He had an IQ so high that it probably could not be measured and enough testosterone to fuel an entire professional football team. Danny was both a titan and a brontosaurus packed into one powerful package. His achievements attested to this: an officer in the Israeli Special Forces, top of his class at the Technion and MIT, and a technology entrepreneur who built Akamai Technologies into a multi-billion dollar company that made the Internet faster and more reliable.

After my father, Richard Lakin, was brutally murdered by Jihadi terrorists on a public bus in Jerusalem 10 months ago, I decided to revisit my decision to mourn privately. The spread of terror is not a private issue, it is a public issue; a very real threat endangering the future of our Western Judeo-Christian way of life. I came to understand that victims of terror become public figures in their death — even if this is not comfortable for their families and friends. Their storied must be told, and their memories must be memorialized, in a very public way. These stories personalize the threat of terror, highlight the cardinal importance of the challenges that we face, and force us to address them.

Although Danny’s public legacy is fairly accurate, there is a piece of the story that has not been emphasized enough: Danny was an ardent Zionist who was dedicated to the State of Israel. Although circumstances found him in Boston, Danny yearned to return to Israel….

I have no doubt that if he had not been murdered on 9/11, Danny would have eventually returned to Israel, and he would have become Prime Minister.

Fifteen years ago today I lost a dear friend. The State of Israel lost a leader.

I miss you, buddy.

Lewin was survived by his wife and two sons:

A book on Lewin’s life was written by Molly Knight Raskin in 2013, No Better Time: The Brief, Remarkable Life of Danny Lewin, the Genius Who Transformed the Internet.

After learning of the story, I focused on the timeline of the flight takeoffs that day. The 9/11 Memorial Museum provides a timeline of the flights and passenger seating.

At 7:59, American Airlines Flight 11 took off from Boston heading to Los Angeles.

Here is Lewin’s seat in relation to the terrorists:

At 8:15, United Airlines Flight 175 took off from Boston heading to Los Angeles.

At 8:20 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 took off from Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., heading for Los Angeles.

At 8:42 a.m., United Flight 93 took off from Newark International Airport, heading for San Francisco.

There were, of course, many heroes that day on those planes. Danny Lewin was just one of them.


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What a great story! Thanks, Prof., for bringing that to us. I was completely unaware of Lewin and his remarkable but too brief life.

Sadly, America has learned nothing since 9/11.

We have imported thousands more Islamic terrorists, twice elected a Muslim-terrorist apologist as Commander-in-Chief, and stood by mutely while that fool literally flew planeloads of our money to Muslim-terrorist financier Iran.

When the next 9/11 happens, stupefied Americans will watch their televisions in shock and wonder how this could have happened.

The idiocy is stunning in its magnitude.

Humphrey's Executor | September 11, 2016 at 8:16 am

For what little solace it may bring them, I hope the recent legislation passed by congress will allow The Lewin family, and all the other victims’ families, to seek compensation from the Saudis.

What an amazing and moving story! Thank you Professor for bringing it to our attention. I had only vaguely heard of Danny Lewin, but now I understand the depth of his character and the true extent of our loss.

I have tears in my eyes.

May the memories of all the victims of that day, and all the other victims of Islamic terrorism, be for a blessing and may their families find comfort.

This is one I found last night, one that I had never heard before. It is the 911 call of Kevin Cosgrove, and has his last words uttered on this planet. He says numerous times that he’s not ready to die, and then his last words just hit you.

Take a watch/listen: