Japan Air Lines Cargo Flight 1628 incident. November 17, 1986.

Japan Air Lines Cargo Flight 1628 was a Japanese Boeing 747-200F cargo aircraft flying from Paris to Narita International Airport that was involved in an unidentified flying object (UFO) sighting on November 17, 1986. During the flight, Captain Kenji Terauchi reported seeing three objects he described as “two small ships and the mother ship”. The FAA in Anchorage only saw Flight 1628 on their radar. Two other nearby planes only saw Flight 1628 and no other objects. An FAA investigation of the incident characterized Terauchi as a “UFO repeater”. Astronomers and investigators have determined that Terauchi probably mistook the planets Jupiter and Mars as UFOs. Contradictions among the accounts of the crew from the three aircraft as well as contradictions between the transcripts and later interviews with Terauchi have cast doubt that anything unusual happened.

Captain Kenji Terauchi
Captain Kenji Terauchi

Observation

On the Reykjavík to Anchorage section of the flight, flying at 35,000 feet (11,000 m) , at 17:11 over eastern Alaska, the pilot, Captain Kenji Terauchi reported seeing three unidentified objects, “flying parallel and then … very close”. News media of the time reported that Terauchi referred to the objects as “‘the two small ships and the mother ship'”, and as “two small ones and one twice the size of an aircraft carrier”. After six minutes, Terauchi radioed the Anchorage Federal Aviation Administration who advised him to take “evasive action”. Terauchi decreased altitude and turned the plane in a circle, but reported that the lights were still with the plane after the turns.

At the time, news media stated that the FAA reported seeing objects near the plane even after the evasive maneuvers, but upon later review, the military radar images were “dismissed as clutter, and an object that showed up on the aviation agency’s screens was thought to be a coincidental split image of the aircraft”. Fairbanks FAA air controllers saw only Flight 1628 on their radar screens.

Terauchi reported that the objects followed the plane for 640 kilometres (400 mi). Two planes that were near Flight 1628, a United Airlines and an Air Force C-130 cargo plane reported that they did not see any objects either visually or on radar.

Flight 1628 landed in Anchorage, the crew were debriefed and FAA investigators determined “they were ‘normal, professional, rational, (and had) no drug or alcohol involvement'”.

Captain Kenji Terauchi
Captain Kenju Terauchi shows his diagram of the huge UFO his flight encountered during the 1628 Japanese Airlines incident.

Explanation

Editor of Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine and UFO investigator Phillip J. Klass reported that the planets Jupiter and Mars were in the area that Teruchi said he saw two lights, and although they would have been quite visible, he did not mention seeing them. Klass states that it is not unusual for an experienced pilot to “‘mistake[n] a bright celestial body for a UFO, nor will it be the last. … Jupiter was only 10 degrees above the horizon, making it appear to the pilot to be roughly at his own 35,000-foot altitude'”. Klass noted that when the crew was interviewed separately in 1988, their remembrance of the event differed significantly.

According to Klass, the pilot later contradicted what he told flight controllers at the time of the incident. After reviewing transcripts of the radio communications, an FAA spokesperson stated that the pilot told the ground controllers that he lost “sight of the object after completing his turn”. But in a later interview, the spokesperson said that Terauchi said the “object stayed with him as he turned”.

Captain Kenju Terauchi shows his diagram of the huge UFO his flight encountered during the 1628 Japanese Airlines incident
Captain Kenju Terauchi shows his diagram of the huge UFO his flight encountered during the 1628 Japanese Airlines incident

The FAA released a data package of the incident characterizing Terauchi as a “‘UFO“ repeater’, having reported two other UFO sightings prior to November 17th, and two more this past January”. In a January 11, 1987 UFO sighting reported by Terauchi in the same general area as Flight 1628, he stated he saw “irregular pulsating lights … [and] a large black chunk just in front of us”. The FAA radar did not confirm an object, and it was later determined to have been “lights from small villages being diffused by thin clouds of ice crystals”. Klass notes that Teruchi used the words, “spaceship or mothership” in his reports, and claimed that the “‘mothership … did not want to be seen'”. Teruchi also claimed that “‘we humans will meet them in the near future'”.

According to Astronomer and UFO investigator Robert Sheaffer, despite Flight 1628 becoming one of “the most celebrated cases in recent UFO literature, it turns out there wasn’t much to read”. About Terauchi’s report, Sheaffer states that the pilot is not “an unbiased or objective observer”. Science writer Brian Dunning writes that there was “nothing extraordinary or unusual on that evening” calling Terauchi “a fine and competent pilot, but was hardly unbiased when it came to alien spaceships” and Flight 1628 “just another unevidenced aerial anecdote”.

 

Further reading

 

November 17 of this year will mark the 33rd anniversary of one of the best documented UFO cases ever, and it happened in the skies above Alaska. Three UFOs played tag with Japan Air Lines (JAL) cargo flight 1628 for 50 minutes while they were visually observed by a sometimes terrified flight crew. During the last 30 minutes the UFOs were tracked on military and civilian radar, and the entire encounter was verified by a high-level administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The incident received media coverage all over the world. Here’s what happened…

Japan Airlines Captain Kenju Terauchi was an ex-fighter pilot and senior airline pilot with more than 10,000 hours flight experience. He was assigned to fly a Japan Airlines cargo flight from Paris to Reykjavik, Anchorage, and on to Tokyo.

On November 17, 5:09 pm Alaska time, the Anchorage Air Route Traffic Control Center contacted JAL 1628, which at that time was about 104 miles northeast of Fort Yukon. The flight controller asked the pilot to adjust his heading so the plane would pass south of Fort Yukon and Fairbanks. The copilot turned the plane to the left about 15 degrees. Captain Terauchi, sitting on the left side of the cockpit, saw unidentified lights out his side window to the left and below. He thought they were military planes and ignored them. After a few minutes he realized that these unidentified aircraft were pacing him.

Flight 1628 contacted the Anchorage Center twice in rapid succession and asked if there were any other aircraft in the area. The Anchorage Center responded that there were no military aircraft, and ground radar did not show any aircraft other than Flight 1628. Then the two lights began to move in an erratic manner. Terauchi recollected in his official report to the FAA, listed here below and edited for length and clarity:

The distance from the lights was far enough from us and we felt no immediate danger. I thought perhaps it is a UFO. The lights were still moving strangely. Most unexpectedly two spaceships appeared [directly in front of the plane], shooting off lights. The inside cockpit shined brightly and I felt [the warmth of the UFO’s thrusters’] on my face.

Then, three to seven seconds later, the fire — like from jet engines — stopped and became a small circle of lights as they began to fly in level flight at the same speed as we were. The middle of the body of the ship sparked an occasional stream of lights, like a charcoal fire. Its shape was a square, flying 500 feet to 1,000 feet in front of us, very slightly higher in altitude than us. Its size was about the same size as the body of a DC-8 [similar in size to a Boeing 707].

It is impossible for any manmade machine to make a sudden appearance in front of a jumbo jet that is flying 910 kilometers per hour and to move along in a formation paralleling our aircraft. But we did not feel threatened or in danger. Honestly, we were simply astounded. I have no idea why they came so close to us.

There was a pale white flat light in the direction where the ships flew away, [pacing us]. The Anchorage Center replied that they saw nothing on their radar. I set our digital weather radar distance to 20 miles, radar angle to horizon. There it was, on the screen: a large, green, round object had appeared seven or eight miles away, in the direction of the object.

We arrived at the sky above the Eielson Air Force Base and Fairbanks. It was a clear night. We were just above the bright city lights and we checked the pale white light behind us. There was a silhouette of a gigantic spaceship! We must get away quickly!

A terrified Captain Terauchi, in coordination with the Anchorage Center, attempted evasive maneuvers such as flying in a circle and changing altitude. The gigantic UFO, later described by Terauchi as the size of two aircraft carriers, shadowed flight 1628 through all maneuvers.

Terauchi “wondered and feared as to their purpose.” Anchorage Center offered to scramble a military jet, but Captain Terauchi declined the offer fearing unintended consequences of a military confrontation with the UFO. About that time a United Airlines passenger jet flew into the same air zone and was requested by the ATC to get a visual on the situation. Terauchi reported, “When the United plane came by our side, the spaceship disappeared suddenly. The strange encounter ended 150 miles away from Anchorage.”

In 1986, John Callahan was FAA Division Chief of the Accidents and Investigations Branch in Washington, DC. About a week after the JAL 1628 incident, he got an urgent call from Alaska. Callahan’s recollections were recorded in an interview conducted circa 2000. His comments, too, are edited here for brevity and clarity.

I forgot who it was that called, but he says ‘We got a problem here. I don’t know what to tell the media. The whole [FAA] office is full of the media from Alaska.’ ‘[Callahan asks] What’s the problem?’ He says, ‘It’s that UFO!’ I said ‘what UFO?’ He says, ‘Well, last week, we had a UFO chase a 747 across the skies up here for about 30 minutes or so.’

I told him to get all that data together. I wanted all the [civilian and military] disks that they had and all the tapes that they had available — and flown overnight to the tech center where I’m sitting.

The military refused to send their tapes, but he got everything Anchorage Traffic Control had.

We told him that we wanted this room setup to be just like it was an Anchorage. And we wanted all that data to come to this scope [radar monitor], and we want to see everything the controller has seen. We want to hear everything he heard. And we wanted it all tied together — the radar, the digital radar, and the sound.

When Callahan played the tapes, he heard a three-way conversation between Anchorage Air

Traffic Control (ATC), Elmendorf’s NORAD Regional Operations Control Center (ROCC), and Captain Terauchi of JAL 1628. He also played a tape of the ATC radar sightings on a scope. Anchorage Air Traffic Control didn’t see the UFOs on their radar, but, based on their conversation, the military were clearly tracking the UFOs. Callahan explained:

The military controller has what they call height-finding radar, and they have long-range radar and short-range radar, so if they don’t catch it on one of their systems, they catch it on the other. Ours wouldn’t record it.

Details reported by the military controller indicated that the UFOs were traveling thousands of miles per hour as they maneuvered in the airspace around the 747. The military controller had one other surprise finding. Near the end of the incident a United Airlines flight was diverted to observe the JAL flight. By then, Captain Terauchi no longer saw the huge UFO, and the United Pilot did not see it either. Unbeknownst to both of them, the military radar clearly indicated that the UFO had tucked in out of sight behind the United Flight and had begun following it.

After sitting through the presentation, Callahan’s boss turned to him and said, “Don’t talk to anybody until I give you the ok.” The next day his boss set up a briefing. According to Callahan,I brought all the people from the tech center. We went upstairs. We had all kinds of boxes of data that we handed them — printouts. It filled up the room. They brought in three people from the FBI, three people from the CIA, and three people from Reagan’s scientific study team, and I don’t know who the rest of the people were, but they were all excited.

Callahan and his staff showed the assemblage everything they had, and answered a lot of technical questions.

When they got done, they actually swore all these other guys into, ‘This never took place. We never had this meeting, and this was never recorded.’ This was one of the guys from the CIA. I asked them at the time, ‘I don’t know why you’re saying this. I mean, if there was something there and if it’s not the [then in development] Stealth Bomber, then you know it’s a UFO. And if it’s a UFO, why wouldn’t you want the people to know?’

He said if they come out and told the American public that they ran into a UFO out there, it would cause panic across the country. So therefore, we can’t talk about it. And we’re taking all this data [They did, but Callahan had copies of everything in his office].

When they asked me what I thought, I told them that it looked like we had a UFO that was up there. As far as I was concerned, Reagan’s science team were the ones that verified my own thoughts about it. They were very, very excited about the data. They had said at that time that this was the was the only time — and they had used the words ‘a UFO’ — was ever recorded on radar for any length of time.

Epilogue: Within months of the incident Captain Terauchi was banished to a desk job because he had “embarrassed” the company. He was fully reinstated a few years later. John Callahan retired from the FAA, became an industry consultant, and periodically recounted the true story of JAL flight 1628.

FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986

FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi

FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986

FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986

FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986

FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986

FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986

FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986
FAA Memorandum Japan Flight JAL 1628, Captain Kenji Terauchi. November 17 1986