Missing Air Force officer found 35 years later

Portrait of Captain William Howard Hughes Jr taken from Air Force Office of Special Investigations official website

Portrait of Captain William Howard Hughes Jr taken from Air Force Office of Special Investigations official website

A man who deserted the United States air force 35 years ago has been found living in California under a new alias.

"On June 6, 2018, Air Force Office of Special Investigations Detachment 303 Special Agents at Travis Air Force Base, California, apprehended Air Force fugitive Captain William Howard Hughes, at his California residence without incident", the Air Force announced.

Hughes had been involved in classified planning and analysis of NATO's control, command and communications surveillance systems during the Cold War. His orders included working with other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) officers on the operation of Airborne Warning and Control (AWACS) electronic surveillance aircraft, officials stated.

News reports told of the high ranking Air Force officer being 33 years old single when he 'mysteriously' disappeared in the summer of 1983. In the wake of those disasters, Los Angeles Times journalist Tad Szulc reported in July of 1986 that intelligence officers believed the rockets may have been sabotaged with Hughes' help.

Hughes, now 66, was arrested by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations the next day.

Hughes told investigators that in 1983 he was depressed about being in the Air Force, so he fled and created the fictitious identity of O'Beirne.

Capt Hughes is now being held at Travis Air Force Base in California, a statement from the USAF's office of special investigations said.

The Air Force declared him a deserter on December 9 of that same year.

Hughes was seen in the Albuquerque area withdrawing more than $28,000 from bank accounts, according to the AFOSI news release.

William Howard Hughes Jr. was arrested at his home after a fraud investigation, the air force Office of Special Investigations said in a press release.

He had top secret clearance, but "none that could compromise national security", Pentagon officials said in article that appeared in the Journal on May 2, 1984.

Military.com reported that Hughes was found due to a passport fraud investigation. He could face up to five years of confinement, forfeiture of all pay and dishonourable discharge from the Air Force.

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

Interviews with Hughes' friends and associates and inquiries with law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and overseas failed to locate him, the statement said, and he was formally declared a deserter on December 9, 1983.

Hughes was unmarried at the time, but had three sisters.

His family speculated he was abducted.

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

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