US Air Force officer missing for 35 years found living in California

Air Force Capt. William Howard Hughes Jr. shown in a decades-old official Air Force

- An Air Force officer with top security clearance who disappeared in New Mexico 35 years ago has been found in California after using a false name for decades, authorities said.

Hughes was last seen in the Albuquerque area withdrawing $28,500 from his bank account at 19 different branches, the Air Force said, though not indicating when.

It was July 17, 1983, and the Air Force was sending Hughes overseas on a mission to help North Atlantic Treaty Organisation test aircraft surveillance systems.

In the days and weeks after he failed to report for duty in Kirtland, investigators found his auto at the Albuquerque International Airport. He allegedly told investigators that he became depressed while serving in the Air Force so he left and created a new identity for himself.

His family speculated he was abducted.

The veteran specialized in radar surveillance. That would be "totally out of character for the Bill we knew", she said. The interview was held with "Barry O'Beirne", but it didn't take long for officials to realize the man's true identity.

After several rocket ship failures in the USA and France, including the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986, Los Angeles Times journalist Tad Szulc theorised Capt Hughes may have been to blame.

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 weird pattern, surrounded by odd coincidences and unexplained events, deeply preoccupying Western intelligence".

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. "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.

The Seattle native's family refused to accept the Air Force's declaration and said they believed their loved one had been abducted.

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. But still, she said, the case remains under investigation. He was apprehended June 6, 2018, by Air Force Office of Special Investigations special agents and is awaiting pretrial confinement at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. If convicted, the officer could face reduction in rank, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, confinement in a military prison for up to five years and a dishonorable discharge, FindLaw.com reports.

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

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