Probe of Asaf Ramon crash to focus on human factor
Ramon was the son of Israel's sole astronaut, who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.
Israel Air Force Capt. Asaf Ramon, 21, was killed Sunday when the F-16A Falcon jet he was flying crashed during a routine training flight near the southern Hebron Hills.
Ramon is the son of Col. Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, who died during the disastrous Earth reentry of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003. Like his son, Col. Ramon was an F-16 pilot.
Ramon will be laid to rest next to his father at Kibbutz Nahalal on Monday.
Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan ordered an official inquiry and an immediate halt to all F-16 training flights until further notice, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. Col. Ilan Boger, a fighter pilot and former commander of the base at Ramat David, was appointed head of the committee of inquiry.
There was no immediate comment on the cause of the crash. However, the main focus of the investigation is on human factors, and there is a high probability that some physiological problem may have led to the crash.
Ramon took off from the Nevatim air base at 1 P.M. on a routine training flight in a single-seat Falcon as part of the advanced flight training course that the pilot began in July. The formation was led by A., a veteran pilot, and was meant to exercise at an altitude of 18,000 feet over the Hebron Hills and the West Bank.
The two aircraft were to simulate dogfighting. The training was fairly basic, as this was a somewhat early stage of Ramon's fighter pilot training. The two aircraft were supposed to pass each other, and then perform a fairly wide turn in order to continue the exercise.
A. was supposed to see Ramon several seconds after the two aircraft had passed each other, but quickly realized that he could not find him. He called him on the radio: "Watch your altitude," but there was no response.
The incident occurred at about 1:30 P.M., when Ramon's aircraft disappeared off radar. Several minutes later reports began coming in from people living in the area south of Hebron that an aircraft had been seen flying at low altitude over the Hebron-Be'er Sheva highway, and of an explosion, followed by a cloud of smoke.
The lead pilot reported that he had lost eye contact with Ramon's aircraft. Quickly, other jets arrived at the scene, along with helicopters, looking for the Ramon's plane.
The search and rescue operation commenced nearly immediately, initially with IDF ground forces in the area and civilians from nearby. IDF helicopters were also dispatched. Meanwhile, the other pilot in the formation began making low passes in an effort to identify the precise location of the crash.
The mountainous terrain made it difficult to find the location of the crash. A crater that had been carved by the downed plane was located some 90 minutes after the incident.
An IDF officer who was one of the first on the scene said that "all that was left was a big, burned out crater, with very little debris."
The remains of the aircraft were spread over a wide area and the IDF brought hundreds of soldiers who began combing the mountains for debris. Ramon's remains were found not far from the crater. He had not been able to eject from the aircraft before the crash.
Ramon's aircraft began falling when it was at 18,000 feet. When it was last seen, the jet had its nose slightly downward. Based on its speed and altitude at the time, the plane likely struck the ground with enormous force within 20-45 seconds from when it began to fall.
Ramon had managed to complete 47 flights as part of his advanced training program, and 15 of those included simulated basic dogfight training. The type of training that this particular flight involved was not extreme, but it was done at nearly 720 km/h (400 knots) which is about the maximum allowable speed.
Pilots perform this sort of exercise while keeping sufficient distance and height between the aircraft in order to avoid flying into each other.
Ramon had completed pilot training three months ago and was named best cadet in his class. At an advanced stage of his training, when he flew an A-4 Skyhawk as part of the fighter-aircraft training, the engine stalled and Ramon successfully restarted the engine by carrying emergency procedures. He landed that aircraft safely.
President Shimon Peres awarded Ramon his wings at his graduation ceremony in July.
Nehushtan, and Maj. Gen. Avi Zamir, chief of personnel at the IAF, arrived at the Ramon home in Ramat Gan Sunday to deliver the news to Asaf's mother, Rona. Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi all issued a messages of condolence to the family.
As is customary, Asaf Ramon was promoted to the rank of captain posthumously.
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