Residents of the quiet tree-lined street in Daly City, south of San Francisco, said Monday that they were stunned to see news reports identifying their neighbour as William Howard Hughes Jr. In July 1983, Hughes had been assigned to temporary duty in the Netherlands to work with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers "on the operations of Airborne Warning and Control electronic surveillance aircraft" but never resurfaced after leaving for Europe.
At the time of his disappearance in 1983, Hughes, then 31, was assigned to the Kirtland-based Air Force Operation Test and Evaluation Center.
"On June 5, during a passport fraud investigation, the US Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service interviewed an individual claiming to be Barry O'Beirne", the Air Force said in a statement. He said he had created a fake identity and lived in California since he vanished in 1983, according to the statement.
Following his arrest, Hughes was charged with desertion and is being held at Travis Air Force Base in California.
He was declared a deserter in December of 1983, but he was actually hiding in plain site in California.
Finally, they obtained surveillance video that captured him withdrawing more than $28,000 from 19 different banks in the Albuquerque area on July 22.
Hughes' sister, Christine Hughes, told The Associated Press in 1984 that her brother wouldn't desert and wouldn't vanish without leaving a note, according to The Washington Post.
However, if an investigation finds Hughes leaked classified information - officials in the '80s initially anxious he might have defected or been involved in espionage - it would get a lot worse than a desertion conviction.
At the time of his disappearance, Hughes was in his early thirties. There were even rumors he might have been defected to the Soviet Union. Hughes may also forfeit all pay that he received while he was part of the Air Force. An OSI spokesperson told the newspaper that there was no indication Hughes had given away any classified information.
Interviews with Hughes' friends and associates and inquiries with law enforcement agencies in the USA and overseas failed to locate him, the statement said, and he was formally declared a deserter on December 9, 1983.
In the years after Hughes went missing, a slew of NASA catastrophes, such as the space shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986, as well as the explosion of the Ariane rocket in French Guinea, caused national security commentators to speculate whether the disasters were related and possibly the result of Soviet sabotage.