JERUSALEM — The son of an Israeli astronaut who died in the space shuttle Columbia disaster six years ago was killed today when his F-16 warplane crashed on a routine training flight, the Israeli military said.
The military identified the dead pilot as Capt. Asaf Ramon, son of Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first and only astronaut. One of seven crew members killed when the Columbia exploded as it re-entered the atmosphere in 2003, Ilan Ramon is seen as a national hero in Israel, and radio and TV stations broke into their broadcasts today to report the news of his son’s death.
The crash elicited emotional responses from Israeli leaders. The military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, arrived at the family’s home along with the air force commander after news of the crash was made public, and the country’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, said he was “heartbroken.”
“It is a sad and painful day,” Barak told reporters.
Ramon’s fighter jet crashed south of the West Bank city of Hebron. Dan Kapach, a security officer at a nearby Israeli settlement, described a “huge explosion.”
Ramon, 21, was the eldest of Ilan Ramon’s four children. He excelled in his pilot training and in June received a presidential honor and was given his pilot’s wings by President Shimon Peres.
The pilot was 15 at the time of the death of his father, the payload specialist on the Columbia. A former fighter pilot who took part in Israel’s bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, Ilan Ramon had schools and other institutions named for him after his death.
Today 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.
By the way, and not in an attempt to hawk a book in a post like this, but “Raid on the Sun: Inside Israel’s Secret Campaign that Denied Saddam the Bomb” by Rodger Claire is a great book that details the Israeli operations against Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor.
One thing that Claire mentions in the foreword was how sad he was that he only had a single opportunity to talk to Ilan Ramon for the book. They had originally planned to get together for a more in-depth interview following Ramon’s participant on the Columbia mission, but they obviously never got the opportunity.
Another thing that Claire mentions during the book was that one of the generals that was responsible for the planning of the mission was there to see the pilots off on the day of the attack despite losing his own son in a plane crash during pilot training a few days earlier.