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"Everything was okay, it happened in the last minute," Eliezer Wolferman, the father of astronaut Ilan Ramon, killed in the explosion of Columbia space shuttle yesterday, said. "My son is gone, my Ilan is gone," he said.

President Moshe Katsav, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Air Force Commander Dan Halutz all called the grieving father yesterday to convey their condolences. "I never expected this," the father repeated. He and Ramon's brothers flew to the U.S. to be with Rona, Ramon's wife, and their four children - Assaf (14), Tal (12), Yiftah (9) and Noa (5) - who have been living there during Ramon's training for the space mission. Ramon's parents are living in a retirement home near Be'er Sheva. His mother's health is very poor.

Family members and friends had gathered to watch his return on TV, but instead tried to comfort one another through the horror of his fate.

We are in shock and don't know what to do," Ramon's brother Gadi told Channel 10 television, choking back tears. "This was a dream come true for Ilan. He wrote me e-mails from the shuttle ... and was literally on cloud nine."

Gadi and Rona spoke two hours after Ground Control lost communication with the shuttle. Rona was very concerned about Ilan and Gadi's father.

A party that was to take place at Gadi's restaurant-bar in Zichron Yaakov, to celebrate Ilan Ramon's safe landing, was, of course canceled. "To me he wasn't a symbol; he was a brother and a close friend. When I'd tell him I worry about him when he flies, Ilan would laugh and say it's much safer to fly than to drive a car." In the last e-mail message Ilan Ramon sent his brother, he said: "I'll see you after landing."

"We are going through a very difficult time," Rona Ramon's brother said. "I would like to thank everyone, even people I don't know, for their support."