Lietenant Asaf Ramon, son of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, was killed Sunday when the F-16 fighter jet he was flying crashed just south of Mount Hebron during a routine training exercise. Rescue forces found the remains of the fighter jet and Ramon's body in the surrounding area.
Just two months ago, Asaf completed IAF pilots' course with honors. On Sunday afternoon, his mother, Rona Ramon, received the crushing news of her son's death.
"They say I am following in my father's path, but I am here for myself and not for anybody else," Asaf said in an interview with the Air Force's journal just before the end of pilots' course. "I was found to be fit for the position, and I am happy about that because this is the place I feel I belong."
Asaf continued, "When I got to the course, I didn't know where it would lead. Before decisions were made, I was nervous like everyone else. My heart pounded like crazy, and I really wasn't sure I would pass. Even throughout the course I didn't feel like the treatment I got was any different than the treatment given to the other cadets. I was happy about this."
Asaf talked about his desire to follow in his father's path and become a pilot during a 2004 interview for Yedioth Ahronoth, when asked if he thought Israel should send the next astronaut.
"Yes…and I hope one day they will choose me, I would very much like to become an astronaut. It became clear to me after the accident. I would like to share with him what he went through and how he felt. I believe it will make me feel closer to him. Who knows, maybe one day I will be asked".
President Shimon Peres was the one who gave Asaf his flight wings after he completed his pilots' course. Peres spoke to the family during the ceremony, saying that "your heart is pounding at this moment, looking at your son and brother Asaf – the fighter pilot. And along with your hearts, so are the hearts of all of Israel pounding with love and excitement. We've come at a full circle, from the father to the son, Ilan's star will shine in the evening sky with a blessed light for his son who is making his dream come true."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak also spoke during the ceremony, adding that "this graduation ceremony is unusual, and is accompanied by the spirit of an unforgettable pilot, a commander hero who became a symbol etched in the hearts of us all."
Assaf's widowed mother, Rona, authorized her son's participation in the pilots' course. "I presume it wasn't easy for her, but she supports me and wouldn’t want to hold me back from doing something I chose," said Asaf to the IAF journal.
At the end of the ceremony, she said excitingly: "I feel wonderful and very proud" the chief of staff and IAF commander both embraced and congratulated her.
'The accident gave me a different perspective in life'
About six months ago, during advanced stages of his pilots' course, Asaf survived a plane crash after the plane experienced an unusual and rare malfunction.
During a routine training flight in a single engine Skyhawk plane, the engine suddenly stopped. The flight instructor talked the young pilot through the incident and Assaf managed to land the plane successfully.
Asaf's father, Ilan, also completed the pilots' course with honors some 35 years ago. He achieved the rank of colonel and was chosen by NASA to become the first Israeli to fly into space.
Ilan Ramon managed to make history, but the Colombia space shuttle he was in crashed as it returned to earth in 2003.
Asaf, who spent his teenage years in the United States following his father's appointment, spoke about the tough time he went through after the Columbia shuttle crashed: "The past year has caused me to mature a lot. The accident gave me a different perspective in life. I learned not to take things for granted. I look at my friends now, and how, for example, they treat their parents. If my friend yells at his mother or father, I get upset. They don’t see it the same way I do. They don’t understand it is all temporary."
Maya Lecker contributed to this report