A U.S. Air Force officer who went missing in 1983 was found last week, living in California.

But federal authorities were interviewing a man named Barry O'Beirne last Tuesday as part of a passport fraud investigation, and when they challenged him over his identity's inconsistencies, he said he was Hughes and had deserted the Air Force in 1983, the news release said.

It was July 17, 1983, and the Air Force was sending Hughes overseas on a mission to help North Atlantic Treaty Organisation test aircraft surveillance systems.

The reason he did this, he said, was because he was "depressed about being in the Air Force" - so he left, created a fictitious identity in California and never came back, investigators said. Hughes was single when he disappeared and said he had lived in California as O'Beirne since.

Hughes is charged with desertion and awaiting pretrial confinement at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif.

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

He had just returned from a temporary assignment in The Netherlands, where he worked with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officers on the Airborne Warning and Control electronic surveillance aircraft. Lists of plans and books he wanted to read were found inside his home, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

While working at his permanent duty station at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, the Air Force assigned Hughes to a temporary duty station in the Netherlands in July 1983.

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

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

He had a Top Secret/Single Scope Background Investigation clearance, which meant he had access to USA and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation secret information. Hughes was arrested at his residence without incident June 6 on charges of desertion, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations announced in a news release Thursday.

In 1986, three years after his disappearance, journalist Tad Szulc wrote a piece published in the Los Angeles Times that referred to Hughes' "apparent defection" to the Soviet Union.

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

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

" 'We do not feel he disappeared voluntarily, ' his sister, Christine Hughes, said in the article".

Mr Szulc also said an intelligence officer told him Capt Hughes was "worth his weight in gold to the Russians in terms of future "Star Wars".