JERUSALEM - The son of an Israeli astronaut who died in the space shuttle Columbia disaster six years ago was killed Sunday when his F-16 warplane crashed on a routine training flight, the Israeli military said.
The military identified the dead pilot as Lt. Asaf Ramon, son of Ilan Ramon, Israel's first and only astronaut. Ilan Ramon was one of the seven crew members killed when the Columbia exploded as it re-entered the atmosphere after a mission in space.
A former fighter pilot who took part in Israel's bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, Ilan Ramon had been the payload specialist on the 2003 space flight. He is seen in Israel as a national hero, and Israeli radio and TV stations broke into their broadcasts Sunday to report the news of his son's death.
The military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, arrived at the family's home along with the air force commander shortly after the news was made public.
Ramon's fighter jet crashed south of the West Bank city of Hebron. A Palestinian eyewitness told Channel 2 TV that the plane flew over the southern West Bank at low altitude before crashing.
"There was a huge fire," the unidentified witness said.
The air force commander, Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, called an official inquiry and halted training in Israel's F-16 squadrons "until further notice," the military said in a statement.
Lt. Ramon, 21, was the eldest of Ilan Ramon's four children. He excelled in his pilot training and in June received a presidential honour and was given his pilot's wings by President Shimon Peres.
Ramon was 15 when his father died aboard the Columbia.