Air Force Captain AWOL For 35 Years Is Arrested In California

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A United States air force pilot who disappeared 35 years ago has been found alive and well, living in California under a false identity. "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 US Air Force in 1983", the Air Force said.

William Howard Hughes Jr. vanished in 1983 after returning from duty in Europe and withdrawing almost $30,000 from his bank account.

Hughes said he had been depressed about being in the Air Force so he deserted, made up the O'Beirne identity and moved to California, the Air Force said. He created a fake identity and lived that way in California ever since. The Air Force declared Hughes a deserter in December 1998.

William Howard Hughes Jr. was arrested without an incident at his home in California.

He faces a maximum sentence of five years confinement, forfeiture of all pay and dishonourable discharge for his desertion.

At the time of his disappearance he had just returned from the Netherlands, where he had been working with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers.

TaskandPurpose reported Hughes' vehicle being found at the Albuquerque airport and a search of his home in the 1900 block of Chandelle Loop NE revealed notes of planned activities and books to read upon his return.

Hughes "was the "lead analyst" of the Command Control and Communication Surveillance Systems at the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M., which tests new space-related weapons systems", the Times said.

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"We do not feel he disappeared voluntarily", his sister, Christine Hughes, said in the article.

A spokeswoman for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations told the Albuquerque Journal there's no sign Hughes leaked classified information or was involved with the Soviet Union, but that investigations are underway.

Hughes was unmarried at the time, but had three sisters. That would be "totally out of character for the Bill we knew", she said.

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.

Nevertheless speculation persisted that Hughes may have been abducted by or defected to the Soviets. The news of Hughes' disappearance made headlines the following year, with a front-page Albuquerque Journal announcing "Kirtland Launches Search for Officer Missing 5 Months" on January 17, 1984.

"(Intelligence officers) see a clear link between Hughes and possible sabotage of the American and French launches", the newspaper reported then.

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".

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

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