Astronaut Ilan Ramon's Son Dies in IAF Crash

Asaf Ramon was the son of Israel's sole astronaut, who died when space shuttle Columbia crashed in 2003.

Tragedy struck the family of late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon again Sunday, when his son Captain Asaf Ramon was killed in a crash while flying an Israel Air Force F16-A.

Ilan Ramon, Israel's first astronaut was one of seven crew members killed when the U.S. space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry on February 1, 2003.

Asaf Ramon's aircraft crashed near the settlement of Bnei Haver, in the rugged terrain of the Hebron Hills. The Israel Defense Forces carried out an aerial and terrestrial search of the area for some 90 minutes before locating the crash site.

IAF Blackhawk ("Yanshuf") helicopters carrying soldiers from 669, the Air Force's elite search and rescue unit, were the first to locate the plane, and they retrieved the pilot's body.

At a press conference Sunday evening, a grim-faced Brigadier General Yochanan Locker of the Israel Air Force confirmed the circumstances of the crash.

"The plane crashed during a routine training flight," Locker said. "Helicopters, rescue forces from [elite unit] 669, grounds troops and rescue personnel were dispatched to the site.

"The remains of the plane were found after an extensive search. The Air Force commander has established a committee of inquiry headed by a colonel to investigate the incident," he said. "It is a difficult day for the Air Force [when there is] an accident like this, in which people are killed."

Asaf, 21, excelled in the IAF's grueling training course for pilots. In June he received a presidential honor and was given his pilot's wings by President Shimon Peres. He then joined the squadron in which the course's advanced training program is carried out.

The young pilot escaped another plane crash only half a year ago during a routine training flight.

The Air Force commander, Major General Ido Nehushtan, called an official inquiry and halted training in Israel's F-16 squadrons until further notice, the military said in a statement.

The IAF is investigating a number of possible causes and is looking into whether Ramon was suffering from any physiological problems, such as vertigo or a blackout, at the time of the crash.

The young captain had passed a physical exam and was not known to have any medical problems.

Ilan Ramon himself was a fighter pilot in the IAF, and the youngest to take part in Israel's 1981 air strike on Iraq's unfinished Osirak nuclear reactor. He was also the son and grandson of Holocaust survivors.

People in Israel had tracked Ramon's journey into space as a welcome distraction from the violence of the second intifada; they responded to his death with shock and grief.

On Sunday, Israeli TV stations screened footage of Ramon floating weightless in the space shuttle, swallowing floating drops of water and speaking about his love for his wife and children.

Asaf, was the eldest of Ilan Ramon's four children. He was 15 when his father died; shortly afterward, he promised on a number of occasions that he would follow in his father's footsteps and serve as a pilot and possibly even as an astronaut in the future. He is survived by his mother, and his two brothers and sister.

Shortly before receiving his wings, Ramon told the IAF journal that, "It was important to me to mention my father and tell his stories, because I am proud of him and proud to be his son. But I also want people to know me as Asaf and not just as the son of the astronaut Ilan Ramon."



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