Mystery surrounds missing Coast Guard officer found alive

Published: Jan. 22, 2013 at 5:04 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 24, 2013 at 4:56 PM HST
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Petty Officer Russell Matthews
Petty Officer Russell Matthews

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After disappearing three months ago Petty Officer Russell Matthews suddenly showed up at his North Shore Oahu home Sunday night.  An investigation is underway to figure out where he's been and what he's been doing.  We do know Matthews, 36, was being investigated for illegal drug use when he disappeared.

Early last October his car and slippers were found at Kaena Point.  His hat was in the water.  The Coast Guard searched 10,000 square miles over two days but there was no sign of him.

Three months later Honolulu Police say he appeared at his wife's home on the North Shore Sunday night.  He was incoherent and officers took him to Castle Medical Center in Kailua.  The next morning he called his Coast Guard commanders and told them he was in fact alive.

"We don't know where he's been the past few months. There is an ongoing investigation being conducted by the Coast Guard Investigative service," said Chief Warrant Officer Gene Maestas, U.S. Coast Guard.

Matthews was not hurt, however he was transferred to Tripler Army Medical Center for a medical evaluation.

Chief Warrant Officer Maestas confirms Matthews was being investigated by the Coast Guard for using marijuana at the time of his disappearance.

"If a Coast Guard member is in fact found illegally abusing drugs he would be separated from the Coast Guard," said Chief Warrant Officer Maestas.

Sources also say Matthews was going through a difficult time.  In 2008 he lost four colleagues in a helicopter crash.  In 2009 his first wife was critically hurt when she was hit head on by a car while she was riding her bike.  In 2011 she reportedly took her own life.  Then his disappearance one year later in 2012.

Matthews did get remarried after his first wife's death.  His wife was receiving administrative assistance from the Coast Guard during his disappearance.  It's unknown if his wife or any family knew of his whereabouts or if they assumed he was dead.

"We can't speculate what the family did or did not know," said Chief Warrant Officer Maestas.  "As a part of the normal Coast Guard process the family did receive pay and benefits, his normal pay and benefits. So we did want to make sure the family was taken care of."

Sources say his two young children have been staying with family on the mainland.

Matthews has been reinstated to his job as an Aviation Survival Technician.  It's still unknown if he will be welcomed back with open arms by his colleagues, especially after grief counseling was offered after his disappearance.  Counselors are available after these new developments as well.

What is known is that this is a very unusual case.

"This is the first case of this kind that I have experienced in my 28 year career as a Coast Guard member," said Chief Warrant Officer Maestas.

What happens next also hinges on his medical evaluation to see if Matthews is fit to return to work.  Matthews has been a member of the Coast Guard since 1997. He had been stationed at Air Station Barbers Point since 2007.

It's unlikely there will be any criminal investigation unless there was some sort of fraud.  At this point the Honolulu Police Department has closed its missing person case.

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