Missing Air Force Captain Who Disappeared 35 Years Ago Found Alive and Well in California

A Captain with top clearance in the Air Force went missing 35 years ago after returning to Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. At the height of the Cold War, many feared that the captain had been abducted by the Soviet Union, or that he defected to the enemy.

Some even believed he might have been behind sabotaging the space program by helping blow up the Challenger shuttle in 1986.

As it turns out, the deserter decided to walk away from his life. He's been living under an assumed name in the U.S. all these years.

Capt. William Howard Hughes Jr. returned home from duty in Europe in July of 1983, and suddenly seemed to drop off the face of the earth. Now, 35 years later, he's been found in Daly City, California living under the name Barry O'Beirne.

Shocked neighbors said O'Beirne went by the name 'Tim', and that he was living with a woman he presumed to be his wife. He apparently was living a very quiet life, enjoyed sports and was very friendly to the locals.

When O'Beirne was missing, his family was sure he had been captured by the Soviet Union. The US Air Force Office of Special Investigations launched an investigation.

“Interviews of friends, associates and co-workers failed to disclose information regarding Hughes' whereabouts,” read a statement from the OSI. "“Checks with law enforcement agencies both in the United States and overseas also failed to locate him.”

They did discover that Hughes was last seen in Albuquerque, New Mexico at several different branches of his bank. He withdrew a total of $28,500 from his accounts, and then disappeared.

Because of this, some suspected that Hughes wasn't captured, but that he defected to the former USSR. He was even accused of being behind the failure of several French and American rocket ship launches in 1985 and 1986.

One failed launch he was suspected of having tampered with was that of the Challenger, the shuttle that broke apart less than two minutes after taking off. All seven crew members were killed.

"(Intelligence officers) see a clear link between Hughes and possible sabotage of the American and French launches," reported the media at the time, notes CNN. "He is worth his weight in gold to the Russians in terms of future 'Star Wars,' if we have them."

The Air Force formally declared Hughes a deserter just 6 months after he went missing, but until now his whereabouts remained unknown. A few days ago, the mystery came to an end during an investigation into passport fraud.

"On June 5, during a passport fraud investigation, the US Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service interviewed an individual claiming to be Barry 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," read a statement from the Air Force. "Capt. 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 is currently in custody at the Travis Air Force Base and may face charges, though at this time the exact charges have not been determined.

Source: CNN, The Hill
Photos: United States Federal Government/Wikimedia, U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, US Air Force/Wikimedia, KPIX5

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