U.S. man who hijacked plane in 1984 preparing to leave Cuba for home

HAVANA (Reuters) - A former U.S. militant who hijacked a plane to Havana almost 30 years ago was preparing to leave Cuba for the United States on Wednesday morning, where he faces federal charges, said an acquaintance who asked not to be identified.

William Potts, 56, was spending his last evening on the communist-run Caribbean island saying goodbye to friends and neighbors before flying to Miami, the acquaintance said on Wednesday.

Potts is thought to be one of the last of more than a dozen members of the Black Panthers, a militant black nationalist group, who hijacked planes and are still alive in Cuba. Others have returned home to face long prison terms or died.

U.S. diplomats and Cuban officials had no immediate comment, although Potts told the Associated Press earlier in the day he would be returning on Wednesday.

In 1984, Potts concealed a handgun in a cast when he boarded an airplane in Newark, New Jersey, headed for Miami. He hijacked the plane with 56 passengers aboard and forced the pilot to land in Havana, where he thought he would be welcomed.

Instead, Potts was arrested and convicted of air piracy and served 13 years in a Cuban prison. After his release, he remained in Cuba, was married and has two young daughters who have lived in the United States since 2012.

Potts had tried to return home for a number of years. In 2009, he asked President Barack Obama for a pardon.

Potts was expected to be arrested on his arrival in Miami where he is wanted for air piracy.

Cuba has regularly returned U.S. fugitives since 2006, but Washington says dozens remain in the country.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Peter Cooney)