Missing Air Force officer found 35 years later

Missing Air Force officer found 35 years later

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations has said that a fugitive captain has been apprehended in California after being declared a deserter nearly 35 years ago.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations announced late last week that William Howard Hughes Jr. had been apprehended "without incident".

Hughes was involved in classified planning and analysis of NATO's control, command and communications surveillance systems during the Cold War.

Hughes was last seen in the Albuquerque area withdrawing $28,500 from his bank account at 19 different branches, the Air Force said, though not indicating when.

He told authorities after his capture Wednesday that he was depressed about being in the Air Force and made a decision to leave, saying he created a fake identity and lived in California since he vanished in 1983.

Hughes apparently lived in California under the assumed identity of Barry O'Beirne.

He had been scheduled to return to the Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico on August 1.

"On June 5, during a passport fraud investigation, the US Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service interviewed an individual claiming to be Barry O'Beirne", the Air Force said in a statement.

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Before he mysteriously disappeared and landed on the Air Force Most Wanted list, Capt. William Howard Hughes Jr. phoned home to tell his mother and father that he was going to the Netherlands. If convicted, he might face maximum penalties of dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and confinement of five years.

Checks with law enforcement around the USA and overseas, alongside interviews with those who knew Hughes, did not provide enough information for the Air Force to find him at the time.

He had just returned from a temporary assignment in The Netherlands, where he worked with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers on the Airborne Warning and Control electronic surveillance aircraft. That would be "totally out of character for the Bill we knew", she said.

"After the Air Force formally declared Hughes a deserter in December 1983, his family said in an Associated Press article printed in the Journal on January 20, 1984, they believed he had been abducted".

After several rocket ship failures in the United States and France, including the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986, Los Angeles Times journalist Tad Szulc theorised Capt Hughes may have been to blame.

" 'We do not feel he disappeared voluntarily, ' his sister, Christine Hughes, said in the article".

But Card said no classified information leaks are suspected, nor is there an indication that Hughes was involved with the Soviet Union, but the investigation is ongoing.

"Intelligence officers point out that Hughes' knowledge of all the top-secret rocket launch procedures was invaluable to the Soviets", Mr Szulc wrote in July 1986.

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