Published: Tue, June 12, 2018

USAF captain missing for 35 years found alive in California

USAF captain missing for 35 years found alive in California

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations has said that a fugitive captain has been apprehended in California after being declared a deserter nearly 35 years ago.

William Howard Hughes, Jr., who was going by the name Barry O'Beirne, admitted his true identity after becoming the subject of a passport fraud investigation during an interview with the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service on June 5.

At the time, Hughes was single and assigned to an Air Force center in New Mexico, where he had responsibilities including "classified planning and analysis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation command, control, and communications surveillance systems", the Air Force said. The only clue Hughes left behind was a trail of bank withdrawals, where he pulled out $28,500 from 19 different branches. He said he had lived in California since then.

He is being held at the Travis Air Force Base in California. CNN reports that it remains unclear what charges he will face.

In 1986, journalist Tad Szulc wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece that at least some intelligence officers "believe that Hughes was either captured by Soviet agents or voluntarily defected to the Soviet Union".

His orders included working with other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) officers on the operation of Airborne Warning and Control (AWACS) electronic surveillance aircraft, officials stated.

News reports told of the high ranking Air Force officer being 33 years old single when he 'mysteriously' disappeared in the summer of 1983.


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

Hughes' sister, Christine Hughes, told the Associated Press in a January 1984 article that the family believed he had been abducted, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

The Air Force said that Hughes had a "Top Secret/Single Scope Background Investigation" clearance at the time of his disappearance.

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

In 1985 and 1986, several French and American rocket ships failed to launch properly and subsequently exploded, including the Challenger space shuttle.

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".

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