Missing US air force officer found after 35 years

  • Missing US air force officer found after 35 years

Missing US air force officer found after 35 years

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations announced late last week that William Howard Hughes Jr. had been apprehended "without incident".

Air Force Capt. William Howard Hughes Jr., shown in a decades-old official Air Force photo, had been living under the name Barry O'Beirne, the service said.

Air Force Capt. William Howard Hughes Jr. started at Kirtland in 1981, working on NATO's command, control and communications surveillance systems.

At the time of his disappearance, he had top secret investigation clearance and was assigned to the air force operational test and evaluation centre in Kirtland, New Mexico.

Hughes was unmarried at the time, but had three sisters.

After the Air Force formally declared Hughes a deserter in December 1983, his family said in an Associated Press article printed in the Journal on January 20, 1984, they believed he had been abducted.

Hughes' neighbors in Daly City, California, told CNN he went by the name "Tim" and that he lived with a woman they said they believed to be his wife.

After the jig was up, he told authorities he was depressed about being in the air force and chose to desert. He was last seen withdrawing more than $28,000 in Albuquerque in summer 1983 after returning from a two-week vacation in Europe.

Hughes had been involved in classified planning and analysis of NATO's control, command and communications surveillance systems during the Cold War. He officially went missing in August of that year.

Hughes was supposed to travel to the Netherlands in July 1983 to work with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers on the operations of AWACS electronic surveillance planes. "We do not feel he disappeared voluntarily", his sister, Christine Hughes, said.

There was even speculation that Hughes may have been abducted by or defected to the Soviets.

It is unknown whether family had been in contact with Hughes or knew of his whereabouts following his 1983 disappearance.

In a 1986 Los Angeles Times commentary titled "Sabotaged Missile Launches?" for example, the former longtime New York Times foreign correspondent Tad Szulc wrote: "The French and American accidents are adding up to a freakish pattern, surrounded by odd coincidences and unexplained events, deeply preoccupying Western intelligence".

Linda Card from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations elaborated.

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".

"They (AFOSI investigators) said at this point there's no indication that he had any classified information or that he gave any classified information", Card said.

He is being held at the Travis Air Force Base in California. 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", she said, "we don't have the story".