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"The circle has been closed," sighed the family friends gathered outside the Ramon house in Ramat Chen yesterday. It was not the first time this phrase had been used about Asaf Ramon. At the pilots' graduation in June, when President Shimon Peres awarded Asaf the title of outstanding cadet, he told the family: "A circle has been closed today, from father to son." The same phrase was used several months earlier, when cadet Ramon successfully landed a Skyhawk plane whose engine had failed.

At 5 P.M. yesterday, the convoy bearing Asaf's body arrived at the Ramon house. The press was there in force. But despite this, oppressive silence reigned in the street. Only later would the silence be broken by the sounds of grief from inside.

When Asaf began his pilot training, he immediately became the entire air force's child. Air force commander Ido Nehoshstan was the first to knock on the Ramons' door yesterday, and he remained there for several hours, condoling the family while also presiding over practical aspects of the disaster: ordering the inquiry, halting F-16 training flights, supervising the search for the remains. Also present were three former air force commanders - Dan Halutz, Eitan Ben Eliahu and Eliezer Shkedy - and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.

"Rarely does private pain slice into the national heart with such force," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Today, the entire nation is shrouded in bottomless grief over the death of Asaf, who fell from the skies like his father Ilan."

Outside, friends from his high school and his scout troop gathered to light memorial candles. After his father died, Asaf was "a kind of father" to his three younger siblings, said a family friend. "From the moment Ilan [Ramon] was killed, he took the reins into his hands; he held up the family."

Noah Kosharek and Dana Weiler-Polak contributed to this report .