US Air Force Nabs Deserter After 35 Years

William Howard Hughes Jr. was arrested without an incident at his home in California.

He told authorities that he had been depressed about being in the military and had fled to California, creating the fictitious identity.

The U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service caught on to Hughes's whereabouts, which were not specified, during a passport fraud investigation, leading them to the man named O'Beirne. "After being confronted with inconsistencies about his identity, the individual admitted his true name was William Howard Hughes Jr., and that he deserted from the US Air Force in 1983", the Air Force said.

Capt Hughes is now being held at Travis Air Force Base in California, a statement from the USAF's office of special investigations said. In July 1983, Hughes had been assigned to temporary duty in the Netherlands to work with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers "on the operations of Airborne Warning and Control electronic surveillance aircraft" but never resurfaced after leaving for Europe.

Upon launching its investigation into Hughes, the Air Force did not immediately rule out defection as a possibility, according to 1984 newspaper accounts in the Albuquerque Journal in which a public affairs officer said it is one "option".

He had just returned from a temporary assignment in The Netherlands, where he worked with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers on the Airborne Warning and Control electronic surveillance aircraft.

His vehicle was found at the Albuquerque airport and a search of his home in the 1900 block of Chandelle Loop NE revealed notes of planned activities and books to read upon his return, according to reports. The only clue Hughes left behind was a trail of bank withdrawals, where he pulled out $28,500 from 19 different branches.

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.

At the time of his disappearance, Hughes was in his early thirties.

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

According to the OSI, Hughes had "Top Secret / Single Scope Background Investigation clearance" at the time of his disappearance with access with U.S. Secret and NATO Secret information.

He had been scheduled to return to the Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico on August 1.

Although in the past, some believed that Hughes had leaked highly confidential information to the Soviet Union, officials believe that no such leak took place.

"They (AFOSI investigators) said at this point there's no indication that he had any classified information or that he gave any classified information..." "Until we have the whole story, we don't have the story".

In the years after Hughes went missing, a slew of NASA catastrophes, such as the space shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986, as well as the explosion of the Ariane rocket in French Guinea, caused national security commentators to speculate whether the disasters were related and possibly the result of Soviet sabotage.

Hughes faces desertion charges, which carries a maximum of five years in prison.

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