Tuesday, April 6, 1976 | 6 a.m.
HOUSTON (UPI) - Howard Hughes, one-time playboy pilot who became a recluse billionaire, died Monday in an airplane hurrying him from Acapulco to Houston for medical treatment, Methodist Hospital announced.
The Hughes saga that had mystified the world for two decades ended in a brief announcement by a spokesman for the hospital, which had been Hughes destination when he was overtaken in the air by death.
"Today at 1:27 p.m. (CST en route from Acapulco to Houston, Mr. Howard Hughes expired."
And it ended in more mystery - the hospital said it didn't know the cause of death and didn't know what to do with Hughes' body because no instructions had been received.
Although officials did not disclose the nature of "medical treatment" Hughes was seeking, the hospital was known to have prepared a recovery room in the wing where famous heart surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey operates.
The body of the man said to be the second richest American reposed in the pathology laboratory of the hospital under guard while officials waited for instructions.
Larry Mathis, vice0president of the hospital, said the hospital itself could not positively identify the body it received as that of Hughes. He said it was identified by one of two physicians who were on the plane which brought it to Houston.
"We don't know, honestly." Mathis told dozens of reporters when asked what would be done with the body.
"In a normal situation we need a next of kin, but no one has stepped forward. We are up in the air at this point."
Hospital personnel were alerted shortly after 9 a.m. to expect a special patient identified at "J.T. Conover," but by late afternoon the hospital announced Hughes had died aboard a private jet before he could reach Houston, his birthplace.
The hospital statement said Hughes "was en route to Houston to the Methodist Hospital for medical treatment.
"He was accompanied by two physicians and one administrative person," said Mathis. According to the physicians on board the plane, he expired at approximately 1:27 p.m. CST while they were in the air. We have no idea what the cause of death was."
A West Coast spokesman for the Summa Corporation, part of Hughes' worldwide empire, confirmed the death but Mathis said he personally could not "prove" the body was Hughes.
"We were told it was Howard Hughes by one of the physicians," the hospital official said.
A hospital technician, who asked her name be withheld, said hospital personnel had waited for the arrival of the special patient all day.