Missing Air Force officer found 35 years later

Mystery has surrounded the discovery of a high ranking Air Force Officer with top secret clearance who went missing more than 35 years ago only to 'apparently' re-surface in California. He was last seen withdrawing more than $28,000 in Albuquerque in summer 1983 after returning from a two-week vacation in Europe.

Hughes was 33 years old and worked on classified planning and analysis of NATO's control, command and communications surveillance systems during the Cold War.

His vehicle sat in the Albuquerque airport's parking lot.

"After being confronted with inconsistencies about his identity, the individual admitted his true name was William Howard Hughes Jr., and that he deserted from the U.S. Air Force in 1983", the AFOSI news release read.

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.

His family feared that he had been abducted.

As it turns out, it appears to be exactly what Hughes did. He specialized in radar surveillance.

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It is unknown whether family had been in contact with Hughes or knew of his whereabouts following his 1983 disappearance. In fact, just a day before Hughes' arrest, the man was interviewed by the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service over possible passport fraud, detailed the Air Force Times.

In the years after Hughes went missing, a slew of NASA catastrophes, such as the space shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986, as well as the explosion of the Ariane rocket in French Guinea, caused national security commentators to speculate whether the disasters were related and possibly the result of Soviet sabotage. "These include the apparent defection to the Soviet Union in 1983 of the U.S. Air Force's leading expert on rocket self-destruct procedures" - meaning Hughes.

At the time of his disappearance in 1983, Hughes, then 31, was assigned to the Kirtland-based Air Force Operation Test and Evaluation Center.

Nevertheless speculation persisted that Hughes may have been abducted by or defected to the Soviets. "Due to his access to classified information he was declared a fugitive and was on a list of the USAF's seven most wanted individuals", says the BBC.

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".

Hughes was taken into custody without incident and is at Travis Air Force Base in California awaiting pre-trial confinement, the Air Force said. He could face up to five years of confinement, forfeiture of all pay and dishonorable discharge from the Air Force.

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

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