Published: Mon, June 11, 2018
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Air Force officer missing for 35 years found living in California

Air Force officer missing for 35 years found living in California

At the time of his disappearance in 1983, Hughes, then 31, was assigned to the Kirtland-based Air Force Operation Test and Evaluation Center. Hughes created a fake identity and lived under the pseudonym "Barry O'Beirne" for over three decades.

That officer, Capt. William Howard Hughes Jr., was apprehended in California on Wednesday, more than 30 years after his mysterious disappearance.

Hughes' sister, Christine Hughes, told the Associated Press in a January 1984 article that the family believed he had been abducted, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

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. The interview was held with "Barry O'Beirne", but it didn't take long for officials to realize the man's true identity.

At the time of his disappearance, the 31-year-old office had top secret security clearance, working on "classified planning and analysis of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation command, control and communications surveillance systems", U.S. military journal Stars and Stripes reports.

In 1985 and 1986, several French and American rocket ships failed to launch properly and subsequently exploded, including the Challenger space shuttle. Hughes was arrested at his residence without incident June 6 on charges of desertion, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations announced in a news release Thursday.

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In a 1986 Los Angeles Times commentary titled "Sabotaged Missile Launches?" for example, the former longtime New York Times foreign correspondent Tad Szulc wrote: "The French and American accidents are adding up to a freakish pattern, surrounded by odd coincidences and unexplained events, deeply preoccupying Western intelligence".

"Intelligence officers believe that Hughes was either captured by Soviet agents or voluntarily defected to the Soviet Union", the Times said. One such anonymous official said, "He is worth his weight in gold to the Russians in terms of future 'Star Wars, ' if we have them".

Military officials said Hughes had access only to secret information pertinent to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

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. But still, she said, the case remains under investigation.

He had been scheduled to return to the Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico on August 1. If convicted, he might face maximum penalties of dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and confinement of five years.

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

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