USAF captain missing for 35 years found alive in California

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The Air Force Office of Special Investigations said in a news release this week that it had captured William Howard Hughes, Jr., at his home after a fraud investigation involving a fake identity he had been using.

Hughes was caught during a passport fraud investigation, after the US Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service interviewed a man claiming to be Barry O'Beirne. This is the last time he was seen as William Howard Hughes until last week.

He was assigned to the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center at Kirtland AFB, in New Meixco where his duties included classified planning and analysis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation command, control, and communications surveillance systems.

A high ranking Air Force officer who had gone missing 35 years ago, was apprehended by officials in California. Hughes created a fake identity and lived under the pseudonym "Barry O'Beirne" for over three decades.

Hughes, a captain at Kirtland Air Force Base, was 33 and single when he vanished, according to news reports from the time of his disappearance.

It was July 17, 1983, and the Air Force was sending Hughes overseas on a mission to help North Atlantic Treaty Organisation test aircraft surveillance systems. But after supposedly leaving for Europe, he was never seen again.

He had just completed a stint in the Netherlands, where he worked with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers on the Airborne Warning and Control electronic surveillance aircraft.

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In Jan. 1984, Hughes' sister, Christine Hughes, told the Associated Press that the family believed Hughes had been abducted.

There was even speculation that Hughes may have been abducted by or defected to the Soviets. He was expected to return to duty at Kirtland on August 1, 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 is awaiting pretrial proceedings for his desertion case at the Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif. If convicted, the officer could face reduction in rank, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, confinement in a military prison for up to five years and a dishonorable discharge, FindLaw.com reports.

Mr Szulc also said an intelligence officer told him Capt Hughes was "worth his weight in gold to the Russians in terms of future "Star Wars". Hughes was recently apprehended 35 years after he is alleged to have deserted.

Linda Card, spokeswoman for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, told the Albuquerque Journal that at this stage, investigators have had "no indication that he had any classified information or that he gave any classified information".

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

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