"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".
The Air Force Office of Special Investigations said in a news release this week that William Howard Hughes, Jr., was apprehended at his home after a fraud investigation involving a fake identity he had been using.
Although Hughes told the authorities he abandoned his air force career because he had gotten "depressed", and assumed a fake identity before settling down in California, the AFOSI authorities said there were a number of questions that still remain unanswered regarding his disappearance, which will be revealed as investigation into his actions continued.
An undated picture of Capt. William Howard Hughes, Jr.
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. He deserted in July 1983 after a temporary assignment in the Netherlands, and was last seen around Albuquerque, N.M., withdrawing $28,500 from 19 different bank locations.
He has been living under the alias Barry O'Beirne since then.
Hughes was assigned to the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, where he was involved in classified planning and analysis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation command, control, and communications surveillance systems.
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.
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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 freaky pattern, surrounded by odd coincidences and unexplained events, deeply preoccupying Western intelligence".
Quoting anonymous intelligence sources, Szulc wrote that the intelligence community feared Hughes had either been captured by Soviets or that he voluntarily defected.
The Air Force classified Hughes, who had a "Top Secret/Single Scope Background Investigation" clearance, as a deserter a few months later.
Military officials said Hughes had access only to secret information pertinent to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
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.
"Until we have the whole story, we don't have the story", she told the newspaper. Friends and co-workers also didn't provide any information, the Air Force said.
Desertion carries maximum penalties of dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and confinement of five years.