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

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

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

Instead, investigators said Capt. Hughes went to 19 Albuquerque bank branches and withdrew a total of $28,500 from his account.

Agents from the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations took Hughes into custody at his California home Wednesday, the Air Force said. Hughes, now 66, was arrested by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations the next day. He was questioned on Tuesday by the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service and maintained that his name was Barry O'Beirne.

A high ranking Air Force officer who had gone missing 35 years ago, was apprehended by officials in California. He faces up to five years of confinement, forfeiture of all pay and dishonorable discharge from the Air Force.

The veteran specialized in radar surveillance.

His orders included working with other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) officers on the operation of Airborne Warning and Control (AWACS) electronic surveillance aircraft, officials stated.

It is unknown whether family had been in contact with Hughes or knew of his whereabouts following his 1983 disappearance.

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News reports told of the high ranking Air Force officer being 33 years old single when he 'mysteriously' disappeared in the summer of 1983.

Later in 1986, a Los Angeles Times article also speculated that Hughes had defected to the Soviet Union.

He had a Top Secret/Single Scope Background Investigation clearance, which meant he had access to US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation secret information.

His family did not appear to know about his disappearance with the Albuquerque Journal reporting that his sisters said at the time that they thought he might have been abducted.

"We do not feel he disappeared voluntarily", his sister, Christine Hughes, said in a 1984 Associated Press article.

After several rocket ship failures in the USA and France, including the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986, Los Angeles Times journalist Tad Szulc theorised Capt Hughes may have been to blame.

"(Intelligence officers) see a clear link between Hughes and possible sabotage of the American and French launches", the newspaper reported then.

But Card said no classified information leaks are suspected, nor is there an indication that Hughes was involved with the Soviet Union, but the investigation is ongoing.

"Until we have the whole story", she said, "we don't have the story".


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