US Air Force Nabs Deserter After 35 Years

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An officer of the U.S. Air Force who disappeared 35 years ago, and was ultimately classified a deserter, has been found in California living under another name, authorities said. When investigators confronted him about "inconsistencies about his identity", the man confessed that his real name was William Howard Hughes Jr., and that he deserted the Air Force in 1983, according to the Office of Special Investigations.

At the time of his disappearance, the 31-year-old office had top secret security clearance, working on "classified planning and analysis of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation command, control and communications surveillance systems", U.S. military journal Stars and Stripes reports.

Hughes, who worked out of the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center in N.M., was last seen in Albuquerque withdrawing $28,500 from his bank account at 19 different branch locations.

Hughes was taken into custody without incident and is at Travis Air Force Base in California awaiting pre-trial confinement, the Air Force said.

"On June 5, during a passport fraud investigation, the US Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service interviewed an individual claiming to be Barry O'Beirne", the Air Force said in a statement.

A high ranking Air Force officer who had gone missing 35 years ago, was apprehended by officials in California.

Desertion carries maximum penalties of dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and confinement of five years.

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

After Hughes disappeared, his auto was found at the Albuquerque airport and a search of his home revealed notes of planned activities and books to read upon his return, the Albuquerque Journal said. Linda Card from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations elaborated.

As Capt Hughes vanished during the Cold War, there was speculation that he had been abducted by the Soviet Union - or defected to them. That would be "totally out of character for the Bill we knew", she said.

The Air Force said that Hughes had a "Top Secret/Single Scope Background Investigation" clearance at the time of his disappearance. "Until we have the whole story, we don't have the story".

In 1986, three years after his disappearance, journalist Tad Szulc wrote a piece published in the Los Angeles Times that referred to Hughes' "apparent defection" to the Soviet Union. "Among his responsibilities was the training of range officers in charge of destroying rockets malfunctioning after launch".

"We do not feel he disappeared voluntarily", his sister, Christine Hughes, said in a 1984 Associated Press article, according to USA Today.

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