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Missing Air Force officer found 35 years later

Missing Air Force officer found 35 years later

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations said in a news release this week that William Howard Hughes, Jr., was apprehended at his home after a fraud investigation involving a fake identity he had been using.

In a news release, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) said the Department of State was investigating a man named "Barry O'Beirne" in connection to a passport fraud inquiry.

Air Force Capt. William Howard Hughes Jr. started at Kirtland in 1981, working on NATO's command, control and communications surveillance systems. He was supposed to report back to Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico in August 1983, but he didn't show up. Hughes, a Seattle native was arrested without incident on Wednesday.

In December 1983, Air Force officials declared Capt. Hughes to be a deserter.

Hughes said he had been depressed about being in the Air Force so he deserted, made up the O'Beirne identity and moved to California, the Air Force said.

Captain William Howard Hughes Jr was last seen on 25 July 1983, when he withdrew a total of $28,500 (£21,300) from 19 bank branches around Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he was stationed following his return from service in Europe.

Hughes was supposed to travel to the Netherlands in July 1983 to work with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers on the operations of AWACS electronic surveillance planes.

His mysterious disappearance during the Cold War spurred theories that he had been abducted by the Soviet Union or defected to what was then known as the USSR to work against the US.

A spokeswoman for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations told the Albuquerque Journal there's no sign Hughes leaked classified information or was involved with the Soviet Union, but that investigations are underway.

It is unknown whether family had been in contact with Hughes or knew of his whereabouts following his 1983 disappearance. His sister Christine said, "We do not feel he disappeared voluntarily", detailed the Albuquerque Journal.

Hughes was taken into custody by special agents from the Travis Air Force Base and is being held at the military base.

A couple years later, in July 1986, the Los Angeles Times reported that, after several French and American rocket ships exploded following improper launches, intelligence officers believed the rockets may have been sabotaged with help from Hughes.

"He is worth his weight in gold to the Russians in terms of future 'Star Wars, ' if we have them", one intelligence officer told the Times. An OSI spokesperson told the newspaper that there was no indication Hughes had given away any classified information.

He faces a maximum sentence of five years confinement, forfeiture of all pay and dishonourable discharge for his desertion.

But more than 30 years after he dropped off the grid, Hughes was caught.

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