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US officer who vanished in 1983 found using fake ID

William Howard Hughes Jr said he was depressed about being in the Air Force and decided to leave.

William Howard Hughes Jr has been found in California (US Air Force Office of Special Investigations via AP)
William Howard Hughes Jr has been found in California (US Air Force Office of Special Investigations via AP) AP/Press Association Images

An Air Force officer with top security clearance who disappeared in New Mexico 35 years ago has been found in California after using a false name for decades, authorities said.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations said in a statement that William Howard Hughes Jr has been apprehended at his home after a fraud investigation.

He told authorities after his capture on Wednesday that he was depressed about being in the Air Force and decided to leave, saying he created a fake identity and lived in California since he vanished in 1983.

Hughes was charged with desertion and is being held at Travis Air Force Base in California.

He could face up to five years of confinement, forfeiture of all pay and dishonourable discharge from the Air Force.

Air Force Deserter
Air Force Deserter William Howard Hughes Jr

Hughes had been involved in classified planning and analysis of Nato's control, command and communications surveillance systems during the Cold War.

He specialised in radar surveillance.

Hughes, a captain at Kirtland Air Force Base, was 33 and single when he vanished, according to news reports from the time of his disappearance.

He was last seen withdrawing more than 28,000 dollars 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 1983.

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

Several other fugitives are on the Air Force's wanted list, including others who have been on the run since the 1980s for various reasons that stem from drug charges to security issues.

Last year, investigators caught a fugitive in Florida who had been living under another identity since 1972.

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