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Commentary: 2,996 to 1

Everyone remembers where they were on September 11, 2001. Everyone.

I was in Oakland International Airport waiting for a flight to Kansas City that never took off. Like thousands of my fellow travelers, I watched the twin towers of the World Trade Center fall on an airport television. Then I retrieved my bags and drove home to my wife and two young kids.

A week and change later, I made that flight to Kansas City. I had a Powerboat magazine assignment, a riveting feature on boat lifts, at the Lake of the Ozarks to get done.

Life goes on, right? The best way to honor the dead is to move forward and live without fear. At least that’s how I see it.

Powerboat magazine photographer Tom Newby was 50 years old when he died on September 11, 2007.

There were 16 of us on the airplane, not counting the crew, and we all sat up front. The moment we boarded that Boeing 737, we became a close-knit community of total strangers bonded by the loss of 2,996 of our fellow Americans.

Not everyone remembers where they were when Powerboat photographer Tom Newby died six years to the day later during in a helicopter accident during a photo shoot. But everyone who worked for the magazine back then does, as do many longtime members of the high-performance powerboating community.

With no photo assignment that morning, I had just ordered breakfast at the Sarasota Hyatt hotel in Southwest Florida. Five minutes later, I was riding in a safety boat with Vicki Newton, then the publisher of Powerboat magazine and Newby’s girlfriend, and members of our safety team to the on-shore recovery site in Venice.

Videographer Mark Copeland also died in the crash. He was 44 years old and it was his first day on the job. Pilot Mark Waters was gravely injured but survived.

Tom Newby captured this powerful image of raceboats on the Hudson River. The photo was used in a commemorative Powerboat magazine poster that raised money for New York City firefighters and their families.

It was the beginning of one very long day.

That was 16 years ago and the wound still feels fresh, especially today. It also feels a little trite and selfish to write about it each year given the loss of 2,996 of my fellow Americans—our fellow Americans—six years earlier. But by pure happenstance, two of the worst memories of my life were born on the same day of the year.

So today I write to honor some 2,996 souls I did not know and one I did—and dearly loved.

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