US Air Force deserter says went missing because 'depressed'

US Air Force deserter says went missing because 'depressed'

A US Air Force officer with top-secret clearance who went missing in 1983 has been living under an assumed name in California, according to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

Before he mysteriously disappeared and landed on the Air Force Most Wanted list, Capt. William Howard Hughes Jr. phoned home to tell his mother and father that he was going to the Netherlands.

Hughes was involved in classified planning and analysis of NATO's control, command and communications surveillance systems during the Cold War.

He had been sent to the Netherlands July 18, 1983, to work with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers and was due back in Albuquerque on August 1, the Air Force said.

Based at at Kirtland Air Force Base, Captain Hughes was 33 when he vanished, according news reports at the time of his disappearance.

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".

Hughes was apprehended after a passport fraud investigation, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations said in a statement. He created a fake identity and lived that way in California ever since.

Following his arrest, Hughes was charged with desertion and is being held at Travis Air Force Base in California.

William Howard Hughes drained $28,000 out of his New Mexico bank accounts and deserted the Air Force, ending up in California under the name "Barry O'Beirne", the Journal reported.

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"That's him but he always had his Giants hat on", she said.

But more than 30 years after he dropped off the grid, Hughes was caught.

William Howard Hughes Jr. vanished in 1983 after returning from duty in Europe and withdrawing almost $30,000 from his bank account.

He was officially declared a deserter on 9 December 1983, after interviews with friends and co-workers, and searches by law enforcement failed to give any clues about his location.

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

He faces a maximum sentence of five years confinement, forfeiture of all pay and dishonourable discharge for his desertion. There were even rumors he might have been defected to the Soviet Union.

Laurel lives directly across from Hughes and said he had not seen him in recent weeks.

"He is worth his weight in gold to the Russians in terms of future 'Star Wars, ' if we have them", the LA Times quoted an intelligence officer as saying.

Responding to Hughes' claims of deserting the air-force cause he was depressed, AFOSI spokeswoman Linda Card said there were many more questions to be answered as the investigation continues.

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