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U.S. Air Force officer discovered alive after missing for 35 years

This undated photo released by the U.S. Air Force shows Capt. William Howard Hughes, Jr., who went missing 35 years ago. He was recently discovered alive in California.
This undated photo released by the U.S. Air Force shows Capt. William Howard Hughes, Jr., who went missing 35 years ago. He was recently discovered alive in California. U.S. Air Force photo via AP

A Kirtland Air Force Base officer with top security clearance who disappeared 35 years ago has been found in California.

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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.

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

William Howard Hughes Jr., who disappeared 35 years ago, has been found in California.
William Howard Hughes Jr., who disappeared 35 years ago, has been found in California. U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations via AP

Hughes, a captain, was 33 years old and single when he vanished, according to news reports from the time of his disappearance.

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Hughes was last seen withdrawing more than $28,000 in Albuquerque in the summer of 1983 after returning from a two-week vacation in Europe. He had just completed a stint in the Netherlands, where he worked with NATO officers on the Airborne Warning and Control electronic surveillance aircraft. He was supposed to be back in Albuquerque by August of that year.

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An Office of Special Investigations spokeswoman told the Albuquerque Journal that there’s no indication Hughes was involved with the Soviet Union or that any classified information was leaked.

Hughes told authorities after his capture Wednesday that he was depressed about being in the Air Force and decided to leave. He created a fake identity and lived in California ever since. Hughes was charged with desertion and is being held at Travis Air Force Base in California.

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It’s unclear if he had an attorney who could comment on his behalf.