Missing Air Force officer found 35 years later

12 June, 2018, 00:59 | Author: Myra Gill
  • U.S. Air Force shows Capt. William Howard Hughes Jr. who was formally declared a deserter by the Air Force Dec. 9 1983

- An Air Force officer with top security clearance who disappeared in New Mexico 35 years ago has been found in California after using a false name for decades, authorities said.

The missing airman's arrest follows Hughes having been involved in classified planning and analysis of NATO's control, command and communications surveillance systems during the Cold War.

Instead, investigators said Capt. Hughes went to 19 Albuquerque bank branches and withdrew a total of $28,500 from his account.

Hughes told authorities after his capture on Wednesday that he was depressed about being in the Air Force and made a decision to leave.

Hughes' neighbors in Daly City, California, told CNN he went by the name "Tim" and that he lived with a woman they said they believed to be his wife.

Hughes was taken into custody without incident and is at Travis Air Force Base in California awaiting pre-trial confinement, the Air Force said. The U.S. State Department was investigating Hughes - who claimed to be "Barry O'Beirne" - for possible passport fraud when he revealed his true identity.

A former Air Force officer, Howard Hughes Jr., was missing for over 35 years.

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


At the time of his disappearance, Hughes was in his early thirties. Lists of plans and books he wanted to read were found inside his home, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

Capt Hughes worked at the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center in Kirtland, New Mexico.

He had been sent to the Netherlands July 18, 1983, to work with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers and was due back in Albuquerque on August 1, the Air Force said.

Nevertheless speculation persisted that Hughes may have been abducted by or defected to the Soviets. That would be "totally out of character for the Bill we knew", she said.

He had a Top Secret/Single Scope Background Investigation clearance, which meant he had access to USA and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation secret information.

In 1986, three years after his disappearance, journalist Tad Szulc wrote a piece published in the Los Angeles Times that referred to Hughes' "apparent defection" to the Soviet Union.

Linda Card, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, told the Albuquerque Journal Sunday that to this day officials still do not have any evidence indicating leaks of classified information. Those officers suggested Hughes may have been linked to possible sabotage of some failed USA and French rocket launches.

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.

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