USA air force deserter found alive in California after 35 year manhunt

Ex-Kirtland AFB officer missing since 1983 found

US Air Force Nabs Deserter After 35 Years

The 33-year-old captain, who worked as a lead surveillance analyst on a base in New Mexico had a top secret security clearance, according to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

A man who deserted from the US Air Force (USAF) in 1983 has been found in California, the US military says. 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.

"Captain Hughes, who was single, was dispatched to the Netherlands on July 18, 1983, to work with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers on the operations of Airborne Warning and Control electronic surveillance aircraft", the statement said.

At the time of his disappearance, he was thought to have either been captured by Soviet agents or voluntarily defected to the Soviet Union, the Air Force Times reports.

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. He said he had created a fake identity and lived in California since he vanished in 1983, according to the statement. On December 1983, the Air Force declared Hughes a deserter.

Hughes was last seen the New Mexico area withdrawing $28,500 from 19 separate banks.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations announced late last week that William Howard Hughes Jr. had been apprehended "without incident".

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However, if an investigation finds Hughes leaked classified information - officials in the '80s initially anxious he might have defected or been involved in espionage - it would get a lot worse than a desertion conviction.

But more than 30 years after he dropped off the grid, Hughes was caught. CNN reports that it remains unclear what charges he will face.

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

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.

In 1985 and 1986, several French and American rocket ships failed to launch properly and subsequently exploded, including the Challenger space shuttle. Capt. Huges had a Top Secret/Single Scope Background Investigation clearance at the time giving him access to US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation secret information.

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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