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Air Force Deserter Worked for California University System

This combination of photos provided by the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations shows William Howard Hughes Jr., after being captured in June 2018, at left, and an image from his time at the U.S. Air Force.

An Air Force officer who walked away from his job more than 35 years ago was in fact crunching numbers in plain sight at the University of California president's office.

William Howard Hughes Jr. was arrested without an incident at his home in California.

UC colleagues knew him as "Tim," who worked for the university system's health benefits program. Records show he used the full name Barry Timothy O'Beirne.

"This just floors me,'' Judy Boyette said, a San Francisco attorney who signed O'Beirne's consulting contracts when she ran human resources and benefits at UC more than a decade ago. Looking at a photo of her former colleague in custody, Boyette was stunned. "My gosh, that's Tim! Oh, my word. That is unbelievable. But that's him! Wow.''

His former coworkers describe him as smart, articulate, kind and very likable.

"The thing I loved about him was that he could relate to everybody. Just a very nice personality,'' Boyette said.

He had just returned from a temporary assignment in The Netherlands, where he worked with NATO officers on the Airborne Warning and Control electronic surveillance aircraft. He was supposed to report back to Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico in August 1983, but he didn't show up.

At the time of his disappearance, he was thought to have either been captured by Soviet agents or voluntarily defected to the Soviet Union, the Air Force Times reports.

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.

After his arrest, Hughes told investigators that he was depressed about being in the Air Force and decided to leave.

He is being held at the Travis Air Force Base in California.