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News of US Shuttle Catastrophe Shocks Israel - 2003-02-01

Israelis watched in shocked disbelief as national television interrupted regular programming to carry non-stop coverage of the loss of the shuttle Columbia.

There on the screen were the unmistakable images of a catastrophe, especially meaningful for Israelis who had reacted with great national pride to this flight, because it was carrying an Israeli astronaut.

The office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon issued a statement saying the government of Israel and the people of Israel are praying together with the entire world for the safety of the astronauts on the shuttle Columbia.

It said, "the State of Israel and its citizens are as one at this difficult time."

Ilan Ramon, a colonel in the Israel Air Force and former fighter pilot, became the first Israeli to fly in space with the launch of Columbia, which was only minutes away form touchdown when all contact was lost.