Like all of you, I know precisely where I was and what I was doing in the early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2001. I was waiting for a flight from Oakland, Calif., to Kansas City, Mo., where I was supposed to meet up with photographer Robert Brown—flying from Los Angeles—and drive to the Lake of the Ozarks for a Powerboat magazine story we were putting together.
Powerboat magazine used this Tom Newby photo to create a commemorative poster—and raise money for the survivors of first responders who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center (click image to enlarge).
Of course, my flight—scheduled to depart at 7:30 a.m.—never took off. With hundreds of my fellow travelers I watched the terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center’s twin towers unfold live on televisions in the terminal. I called my wife to tell her to turn on the TV, but to make sure Alex, my then four-year-old son, and Anna Rose, his two-year-old sister, didn’t watch.
By noon, I had retrieved my checked bag and was heading back across the San Mateo Bridge to my then-home in Foster City. When the skies reopened a week later, I was on one of the first flights out of Oakland bound for Kansas City. Life goes on. Even in the face of unprecedented tragedy, the world keeps turning.
Like most of my Powerboat magazines colleagues, I was certain that my Sept. 11 memories exclusively would center around an unspeakably evil and cowardly act that claimed almost 3,000 innocent lives. As it happened, I was wrong.
Exactly six years to the day later, Powerboat magazine chief photographer Tom Newby died in a helicopter crash in the waters off Sarasota, Fla.
Newby, who was 50 years old when he died, and I both joined Powerboat in 1994, though he arrived early in the year and I didn’t get hired until October. We traveled together often on assignment for the next 13 years, teased each other mercilessly, frequently drank too much and stayed out too late on the road, and became close friends.
A standard-setting go-fast powerboat photographer Newby was dashing and charismatic. He also was a demanding, critical and decidedly high-maintenance pain in the ass—but he was our pain in the ass. At least that’s how we felt about him at Powerboat, which—to be sure—had more than its share of colorful personalities (mine included) and gigantic egos on staff. Though we knew we’d get back much better flack than we gave, we could hassle him.
But anyone outside of our tight-knit group? No way.
A standard-bearing performance-boating photographer, Tom Newby was a beloved member of the Powerboat magazine staff.
When Newby died, I was just starting to eat an early morning breakfast at the Sarasota Hyatt hotel. One of our rescue team members rushed into the restaurant to tell us our photo helicopter had gone down, and Vicki Newton, Powerboat’s associate publisher and Newby’s girlfriend, and I headed out by boat to the accident recovery scene. It was the longest day of my life.
Like all of you, I am mourning and remembering today. From Sept. 11, 2001, the loss is collective. From Sept. 11, 2007, the loss is personal. But in both cases, I know—and will never forget—exactly where I was.