Ramon: Two Pilots, Two Tragedies

Assaf Ramon had two dreams: to be an astronaut and to be closer to his father. His second one will come true when he is buried Monday afternoon.

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu ,

Helicopter searched for Ramon south of Hevron
Helicopter searched for Ramon south of Hevron
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Assaf Ramon, whose father Ilan was killed in the Colombia space shuttle tragedy six years ago, will be buried next to him Monday afternoon, one day after his F-16A trainer plane crashed in the hills south of Hevron.

“Don’t tell me to be strong,” said Assaf’s mother. “I have already been strong,” referring to the loss of her husband Ilan.

Assaf, cited as an excellent pilot, previously said he wanted to be an astronaut like his father because “I believe it will make me feel closer to him.” In the most tragic of ways, his wish will come true when he is buried next to his father at 4:00 p.m. at the Nahalal cemetery.

The entire nation mourns for the 21-year-old Assaf as it did for his father, and the President, Prime Minister, senior and junior officers of the IDF and of the government expressed their condolences at the Ramon family residence in Ramat Gan.

U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, visiting in the region said, “I send my condolences to the Ramon family. It's always difficult losing a loved one," he added, "particularly when it is a young man filled with hopes and promises and whose life and future are ahead of him.”

President Shimon Peres said Monday morning, “Assaf remains a model” for every Israeli.

Investigators believe that the cause of the crash may have been human, possibly a sudden loss of consciousness, and not due to a technical fault. However, one eyewitness said that she heard an explosion before the plane crashed into the hilly area. Officials warned the public not to jump to conclusions until the investigation is completed.

'I saw a huge ball of fire and after that black smoke," said Michal Weiss, a resident of the Pene Hever community.

Ramon was engaged in a training exercise with another plane, whose pilot lost eye contact with Ramon’s plane around 1:30 p.m. (6:30 a.m. EDT), half an hour after they took off from a Negev air field. Shortly afterwards, residents in the southern Hevron Hills reported an explosion soon after having seen the plane over Highway 60, which connects Hevron-Kiryat Arba with Be’er Sheva.

News of the crash was censored for nearly three hours until the shattered aircraft was found and the family was informed of the tragic news.

Jewish-American astronaut Garrett Reisman, a close friend of the Ramon family, departed Sunday night from the U.S. to attend the funeral. Since the explosion of the Columbia space shuttle in which Assaf’s father Ilan was killed, Reisman has maintained ties with the widow and her children. According to some accounts, Reisman taught Assaf to fly when he was 17.

Dr. Reisman, 41, worked at NASA in 2003, when Ilan Ramon participated in the fateful flight in which he met his death. Throughout that year, Reisman visited the Ramon family in Houston and visited the family a number of times in Israel. Dr. Reisman became the first Jewish crew member to serve on the International Space Station, and sent a greeting from space to the people of Israel during the celebration of Israel's 60th Independence Day in May 2008.

Readers who are interested in sending their sympathies to the Ramon family may do so here.