Daniel Lewin was only 31 years old when he boarded American Airlines Flight 11 on September 11, 2001, but he’d already done a lot of amazing things in his life. His family moved from America to Israel when he was 14. Molly Knight Raskin, the author of a new biography called “No Better Time: The Brief, Remarkable Life of Danny Lewin, the Genius Who Transformed the Internet,” said moving to Israel had everything to do with making Lewin into a motivated individual.
“Moving to Israel was like lighting a fire under (his) drive,” Raskin said. “He wanted to squeeze every last drop out of every minute out of every hour out of every day.”
He joined the Israel Defense Forces in his early 20s and tried out for the Sayeret Matkal, the secretive unit known for the famed 1976 rescue raid on Uganda’s Entebbe Airport. Later he used his love of algorithms and formulas to found Akamai, a tech company that played a big part in making the Internet faster.
Lewin rode the ups and downs of the early days of the Internet’s boom and bust, and on 9/11 he was headed to Los Angeles to sit down with other Akamai execs to discuss ways to cut costs. He was seated in 9B, which put him near the front, in the area where the terrorists were seated. Before the airplane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, flight attendants were able to relay that he’d been the first passenger stabbed to death. That fact makes it plausible, based on his understanding of Arabic and his self-defense training, that he was fighting two of the terrorists when he was attacked from behind by a third terrorist he didn’t realize was there.
As Todd Leopold writes at CNN, “Friends have always pondered the what-ifs. Lewin may have finished his Ph.D., something that always nagged at him. Friends thought he could have entered Israeli politics. Or he could have become a high-tech household name, like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.”
“Those who knew him feel like the world was robbed,” says Raskin. “He was always searching for something greater.”
Here’s a video about Lewin’s short but productive and rewarding life:
(Go here to read the entire report at CNN.)