Missing US air force officer found in California after 35 years

Ex-Kirtland AFB officer missing since 1983 found

The Air Force officially declared him deserted in December 1983. However, on June 6, Hughes was found and arrested in California.

The Air Force said that Hughes had a "Top Secret/Single Scope Background Investigation" clearance at the time of his disappearance.

Hughes was assigned to the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, where he was involved in classified planning and analysis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation command, control, and communications surveillance systems.

According to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), the State Department was recently investigating a man claiming to be "Barry O'Beirne" during a passport fraud inquiry.

Hughes has claimed that he was depressed about his time in the Air Force and so chose to leave.

News reports told of the high ranking Air Force officer being 33 years old single when he 'mysteriously' disappeared in the summer of 1983.

He was supposed to return back to duty in Albuquerque by August of that year only to never show up.

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.

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Hughes was unmarried when he disappeared, but the Seattle native had three sisters.

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. Meanwhile, his family and friends say that they didn't know about his current status or location. Others speculated that he had defected -possibly to the Soviets - with the highly classified information, a notion that fomented conspiracy theories for years. "These include the apparent defection to the Soviet Union in 1983 of the U.S. Air Force's leading expert on rocket self-destruct procedures" - meaning Hughes.

Pressed on inconsistencies, the man said his real name was William Hughes.

"Intelligence officers believe that Hughes was either captured by Soviet agents or voluntarily defected to the Soviet Union", the Times said.

But AFOSI spokeswoman Linda Card said there are many more questions to be answered as the investigation continues.

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

"Until we have the whole story", she said, "we don't have the story".

Desertion carries maximum penalties of dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and confinement of five years.

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