Internet entrepreneur believed to be first 9/11 casualty remembered in new book

(CBS News) A book out this week offers a glimpse into the life and death of one of the passengers aboard American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to hit the World Trade Center. "No Better Time: The Brief, Remarkable Life of Danny Lewin, the Genius Who Transformed the Internet," by Molly Knight Raskin tells the remarkable story of Danny Lewin, the person believed to be the first casualty of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

American Airlines Flight 11 left Boston on a clear Tuesday morning 12 years ago, and what unfolded shortly after takeoff is haunting. Flight attendant Betty Ong, who called from the flight, said, "The cockpit's not answering. Somebody's stabbed in business class, and, I think there is Mace that we can't breathe. I don't know, I think we're getting hijacked."

The passenger stabbed in business class was 31-year-old Danny Lewin. He was seated between three of the hijackers. They knifed him, investigators believe, on the way to the cockpit.

Lewin's best friend Marco Greenberg said, "People ask, how do you know that Danny fought back? That was his character. His character was to rise up and do something and take charge."

By all accounts, Lewin was affable and athletic, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student-turned-Internet entrepreneur.

Greenberg said, "He was the smartest guy in the room at MIT and that's saying a lot. But he was really a decathlete who excelled in every event he did."

Born in Denver, Lewin moved to Israel where he joined the Army, becoming captain of an elite special forces unit. From there, Lewin entered a masters program at MIT where he met mathematics professor Tom Leighton. Leighton recalled, "It was pretty quickly apparent that he was special."

They started designing computer codes to speed the sluggish pace of the old dial-up Internet. Eventually, those codes turned into a company called Akamai and turned them into overnight billionaires.

But when the dot-com bubble collapsed in 2001, Akamai struggled. Leighton and Lewin spent September 10th trying to cut costs.

"That was very painful because we had to figure out a large number of employees that we'd have to let go," Leighton said. "We were losing money at a pretty high rate."

The next morning, Lewin boarded a plane for Los Angeles -- the first plane to hit the towers. Later that day, Greenberg got a call. "He said, 'We think Danny might have been on that plane.' And it was just, 'Wow'."

Leighton remembered, "... You have that horrible feeling that -- well it can't really be the case that this could happen on Danny's flight. Then, of course, I got to the office, and it was clear."

Lewin left behind a wife and two children, a multi-billion dollar company, and a legacy that still touches Internet users around the world.

Watch Don Dahler's full report above.

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