USA air force deserter found alive in California after 35 year manhunt

Ex-Kirtland AFB officer missing since 1983 found

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.

Hughes was last seen the New Mexico area withdrawing $28,500 from 19 separate banks.

Hughes, who had top-secret clearance when he was in the Air Force, worked on classified North Atlantic Treaty Organisation systems, the AFOSI says.

In the days and weeks after he failed to report for duty in Kirtland, investigators found his vehicle at the Albuquerque International Airport.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations announced late last week that William Howard Hughes Jr. had been apprehended "without incident". "Hughes claimed that in 1983 he was depressed about being in the Air Force so he left, created the fictitious identity of O'Beirne and has been living in California ever since".

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

What do we know about Capt Hughes?

Last week, almost 35 years after he went missing, the Air Force finally found Hughes living in California under the fictitious name "Barry O'Beirne".

A man claiming to be Barry O'Beirne was interviewed earlier this month by officials investigating passport fraud.

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After several rocket ship failures in the U.S. and France, including the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986, Los Angeles Times journalist Tad Szulc theorised Capt Hughes may have been to blame. Hughes's disappearance, in the eyes of some, fit right into the puzzle. There were even rumors he might have been defected to the Soviet Union.

Pressed on inconsistencies, the man said his real name was William Hughes.

Nevertheless speculation persisted that Hughes may have been abducted by or defected to the Soviets.

William Howard Hughes Jr. allegedly deserted the Air Force in July 1983 after coming back from temporary duty in Western Europe, the Air Force said.

Military officials said Hughes had access only to secret information pertinent to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Although Hughes had access to "U.S".

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

The Seattle native's family refused to accept the Air Force's declaration and said they believed their loved one had been abducted. But still, she said, the case remains under investigation.

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

Hughes was taken into custody by special agents from the Travis Air Force Base and is being held at the military base. If convicted, he might face maximum penalties of dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and confinement of five years.

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