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F-16 pilot receives Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy

Lt. Col. Peter Byrne thanks his family, friends and coworkers during a ceremony June 5 at the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes. He was awarded the Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy, which stands in the foreground. Colonel Byrne, the 140th Wing vice commander, earned the award from an incident in June 2006 when he suffered a stroke while flying an F-16 but was able to safely land the plane 90 minutes later.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski)

Lt. Col. Peter Byrne thanks his family, friends and coworkers during a ceremony June 5 at the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes. He was awarded the Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy, which stands in the foreground. Colonel Byrne, the 140th Wing vice commander, earned the award from an incident in June 2006 when he suffered a stroke while flying an F-16 but was able to safely land the plane 90 minutes later. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski)

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John D.W. Corley (left) and Koren Kolligian (right) present the Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy to Lt. Col. Peter Byrne during a ceremony in the Pentagon June 5. The trophy, an Air Force safety award, is named after 1st Lt. Koren Kolligian Jr., whose T-33 Shooting Star went missing off the California coast in 1955.  The trophy is given annually to aircrew members who exhibit "outstanding feats of airmanship." Colonel Byrne, the 140th Wing vice commander, earned the award from an incident in June 2006 when he suffered a stroke while flying an F-16 but was able to safely land the plane 90 minutes later. Mr. Kolligian is the nephew of Lieutenant Kolligian. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski)

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John D.W. Corley (left) and Koren Kolligian (right) present the Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy to Lt. Col. Peter Byrne during a ceremony in the Pentagon June 5. The trophy, an Air Force safety award, is named after 1st Lt. Koren Kolligian Jr., whose T-33 Shooting Star went missing off the California coast in 1955. The trophy is given annually to aircrew members who exhibit "outstanding feats of airmanship." Colonel Byrne, the 140th Wing vice commander, earned the award from an incident in June 2006 when he suffered a stroke while flying an F-16 but was able to safely land the plane 90 minutes later. Mr. Kolligian is the nephew of Lieutenant Kolligian. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski)

WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John D. W. Corley presented the Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy, one of the service's top safety awards, to a fighter pilot during a ceremony June 5 in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes.  Assisting in the presentation was Koren Kolligian, nephew of the trophy's namesake. 

The award recipient, Lt. Col. Peter Byrne, was honored for an incident last June in which he had a stroke while flying an F-16 Fighting Falcon out of Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. Colonel Byrne kept his jet aloft for another 90 minutes before returning to Buckley.

"Living through a stroke with immediate care is tough enough," General Corley said of the Air National Guardsman. "To do it while flying an F-16 is superhuman."

The Kolligian Trophy is awarded annually for "outstanding feats of Airmanship by aircrew members who by extraordinary skill, exceptional alertness, ingenuity or proficiency, averted accidents or minimized the seriousness of accidents in terms of injury, loss of life, aircraft damage or property damage."

Colonel Byrne's decisive actions and ability to cope with the traumatic event prevented a potentially catastrophic mishap. While engaged in tactical combat maneuvers, he felt a pinching in his neck, what would later be diagnosed as the dissection of his vertebral artery.

"I could barely move my arms or hands," said Colonel Byrne, 140th Wing vice commander. "It took every bit of concentration I had just to get the autopilot on."

Fighting vertigo, pain and nausea, Colonel Byrne said his primary concern was avoiding populated areas in case he had to eject. His wingmen quickly came to his aid and flew with him for the next hour and a half, helping him stay focused.

With fuel running low, Colonel Byrne's symptoms eased enough for him to coax the F-16 back to Buckley for a perfect landing.

"By some miracle, I was able to land," Colonel Byrne said. "I credit my survival in the air to my wingmen and I credit my survival on the ground to the discipline and efforts of the crews on the ground. They saved my life. It's truly an honor to receive this award."

The trophy is named after 1st Lt. Koren Kolligian Jr., a pilot whose T-33 Shooting Star went missing off the California coast in 1955.   

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