Investigations

United States Air Force officer found after 35-years, charged with desertion

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(Air Force Times/USAF OSI)

FAIRFIELD, Calif. – A United States Air Force officer—who was involved in classified planning and analysis of NATO’s control and last seen withdrawing more than $28,000 in 1983—has been found in California.

William Howard Hughes Jr., a former Kirtland Air Force Base (New Mexico) officer with top security clearance, was apprehended at his home after a fraud investigation involving a fake identity he had been using, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations said in a news release.

Hughes was charged with desertion and is being held at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif.

United States Air Force officer
William Howard Hughes Jr., a former U.S. Air Force officer missing 35 years has been charged with desertion. (Air Force Times/AF OSI)

Hughes—who was a captain when he disappeared—worked in command and communications surveillance systems during the Cold War. He specialized in radar surveillance, reported Fox News.

He was 33 years old and single when he vanished, according to news reports from the time of his disappearance.

After returning from temporary duty in Western Europe, Hughes was last seen in Albuquerque, N.M., where he withdrew $28,500 from his bank account at 19 different branch locations.

The USAF captain had just completed a stint in the Netherlands, where he worked with NATO officers on the Airborne Warning and Control electronic surveillance aircraft. He was supposed to be back in Albuquerque by August of that year.

An Office of Special Investigations spokeswoman told the Albuquerque Journal that there’s no indication Hughes was involved with the Soviet Union or that any classified information was leaked.

Military.com reported the former captain was using the alias, Barry O’Beirne as noted in a fake passport. Hughes is originally a native of Seattle. Prior to his ‘capture’, Hughes had been formally declared a deserter by the Air Force Dec. 9, 1983.

Hughes told authorities after his capture Wednesday that he was depressed about being in the Air Force and decided to leave. As a result, he created a fake identity and has lived in California ever since.

Family, close friends and co-workers had claimed they didn’t know his whereabouts, and law enforcement agencies in the United States and overseas couldn’t locate him until last week.

It’s unclear if he had an attorney who could comment on his behalf.

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