US Air Force Nabs Deserter After 35 Years

12 June, 2018, 18:04 | Author: Myra Gill
  • U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations via AP | BDN

A U.S. air force pilot who disappeared 35 years ago has been found alive and well, living in California under a false identity.

But federal authorities were interviewing a man named Barry O'Beirne last Tuesday as part of a passport fraud investigation, and when they challenged him over his identity's inconsistencies, he said he was Hughes and had deserted the Air Force in 1983, the news release 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, now 66, told investigators that he was "depressed" about his Air Force career, so he assumed the fictitious identity of O'Beirne and had been living in California ever since.

But rather than going through the proper procedures to leave the military, he created a fake identity.

Hughes is being held at Travis Air Force Base in California and has been charged with desertion, a crime that carries up to five years' confinement.

Hughes was single and stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when he disappeared in July 1983, the Air Force said.

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.


An undated picture of Capt. William Howard Hughes, Jr.

He was declared a deserter in December of 1983, but he was actually hiding in plain site in California.

Although in the past, some believed that Hughes had leaked highly confidential information to the Soviet Union, officials believe that no such leak took place.

Hughes's Cold War-era disappearance prompted concerns and theories that the Air Force officer had been abducted by the Soviet Union or had defected to the USSR.

Hughes was unmarried at the time, but had three sisters. An OSI spokesperson told the newspaper that there was no indication Hughes had given away any classified information.

Last year, there was uproar when Bowe Berhdahl was spared prison time after being found guilty of deserting his Afghan outpost - instead he was reduced to private in rank, dishonourably discharged and lost pay. "He was very pleasant", said neighbor June Dayao, 60, a retired teacher who recognised her neighbour's face in a photograph released by the Air Force.

There are several other fugitives on the Air Force's wanted list, including others who have been on the run since the 1980s for various reasons ranging from drug charges to security issues, the AP said.

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