1986: JAPAN AIRLINES 747 OVER ALASKA
Japan Air Lines Flight 1628 was near the end of the Iceland-to-Anchorage leg of its flight from Paris to Tokyo with a cargo of wine, when its flight crew saw and tracked three unidentified objects. On the night of November 17, 1986, the sighting of at least one of the UFOs was initially confirmed by FAA and U.S. military ground radar.
According to Captain Kenju Terauchi, First Officer Takanori Tamefuji and Flight Engineer Yoshio Tsukuda, two small lights and one huge lighted object were in sight on their radar for more than a half hour. They watched as they flew 350 miles (550 km.) southward across Alaska from Ft. Yukon toward Anchorage.
Captain Terauchi, a veteran of 29 years flying, said “It was a very big one–two times bigger than an aircraft carrier.” (see drawing above) He changed altitude and made turns, with FAA permission, in an effort to identify the objects which continued to follow him. He said the objects moved quickly and stopped suddenly. At one time, the light from the large object was so bright that it lit the airplane’s cockpit and Captain Terauchi said he could feel heat from it on his face. He added that he had been watching the UFO for six minutes before notifying anyone on the ground; this would make the start of the sighting about 6:13 p.m.
The FAA at first confirmed the claims that several of its radar traffic controllers tracked the 747 and the large object, and that U.S. Air Force radar did as well. Later official statements hedged on this, and tried to ascribe the radar targets to weather effects. At the end, however, an FAA spokesman stated, “We are accepting the descriptions of the crew, but are unable to support what they saw.”119
The summary of the communication between JAL Captain Terauchi and ground controllers was published by the Federal Aviation Administration:
“6:19 p.m. local time – The pilot of JL1628 requested traffic information from the ZAN (FAA Air Route Traffic Control Center, Anchorage) Sector 15 controller.
“6:26 p.m. – ZAN contacted the Military Regional Operations Control Center (ROCC), and asked if they were receiving any radar returns near the position of JL1628. The ROCC advised that they were receiving a primary radar return in JL1628’s 10 o’clock (left-front) position at 8 miles [13 km.].
“6:27 p.m. – The ROCC contacted ZAN to advise they were no longer receiving any radar returns in the vicinity of JL1628.
“6:31 p.m. – JL1628 advised that the ‘plane’ was ‘quite big,’ at which time the ZAN controller approved any course deviations needed to avoid the traffic.
“6:32 p.m. – JL1628 requested and received a descent from FL350 to FL310 (flight level 350 and 310, meaning altitude of 35,000 and 31,000 feet, or 10,500 m. and 9,500 m.). When asked if the traffic was descending also, the pilot stated it was descending ‘in formation.’
“6:35 p.m. – JL1628 requested and received a heading change to two one zero (210 degrees, or southwest). The aircraft was now in the vicinity of Fairbanks and ZAN contacted Fairbanks Approach Control asking if they had any radar returns near JL1628’s position. The Fairbanks Controller advised they did not.
“6:36 p.m. – JL1628 was issued a 360 degree turn and asked to inform ZAN if the traffic stayed with them.
“6:38 p.m. – The ROCC called ZAN advising they had confirmed a ‘flight of two’ in JL1628’s position. They advised they had some ‘other equipment watching this,’ and one was a primary target only.
“6:39 p.m. – JL1628 told ZAN they no longer had the traffic in sight.
“6:42 p.m. – The ROCC advised it looked as though the traffic had dropped back and to the right of JL1628, however, they were no longer tracking it.
“6:44 pm.. – JL1628 advised the traffic was now at 9 o’clock (left).
“6:45 p.m. – ZAN issued a 10 degree turn to a northbound United Airlines flight, after pilot concurrence, in an attempt to confirm the traffic.
“6:48 p.m. – JL1628 told ZAN the traffic was now at 7 o’clock (left rear), 8 miles [13 km.].
“6:50 p.m. – The northbound United flight advised they had the Japan Airlines flight in sight, against a light background, and could not see any other traffic.
“6:53 p.m. – JL1628 advised that they no longer had contact with the traffic.”120
Official statements became increasingly negative as the days passed, casting doubt on the radar confirmation of the visual observations. But at a press conference held by the FAA on March 5, spokesman Paul Steucke stated: “As far as we know, the whole crew are people of integrity and did report what they saw accurately.” 121
The JAL case was analyzed by optical physicist Dr. Bruce Maccabee, who divided it into four phases. In the first phase, Captain Terauchi saw some distant lights below and to his left, which seemed to pace the 747. Terauchi initially thought they were military aircraft, but was told by the Control Center that there was no traffic in the area. The second phase was the multiple-witness sighting by the whole crew when the lights moved abruptly in front of the aircraft. Maccabee wrote:
“The multiple-witness sighting of the arrays of lights seems inexplicable. The sighting cannot have been a hallucination by the whole crew. The lights could not have been stars or planets. These stars and planets were visible before the ‘ships’ appeared in front of the plane and were still visible after the ‘ships’ had moved away. There is no natural phenomenon that can account for the rectangular arrangement of lights in horizontal rows, for the occasional sparking, for the vertical rectangular dark space between the rows, for the reorientation of the pairs of arrays from one above the other to one beside the other, for the heat which the captain felt on his face, and so on.”122
The third phase occurred as the “ships” receded and could only be seen as “two dim, pale, white lights,” but an echo was picked up by the aircraft on-board radar. While Maccabee concedes that the echo could have been caused by “a temporary (self-repairing) failure” (as suggested by the FAA), he added that “it seems much more likely that there was some object out there.”
The last phase is perhaps the most controversial one, as Captain Terauchi was the only witness of the so-called giant spaceship “two times bigger than an aircraft carrier.” Maccabee conceded:
“It seems at least plausible that he may have misinterpreted oddly lighted clouds which the crew had reported to be below the aircraft. Although the several ground radar returns behind the jet were intriguing, the failure of the radar to show a continuous track of some unknown primary target makes the radar confirmation ambiguous at best. Therefore it seems that, at the very least, the last portion of the sighting is not so convincing as the earlier portions.
“Even if one arbitrarily ignores that latter part of the ‘Fantastic Flight of JAL1628’ one is still left with an intriguing sighting of the two ‘ships’ which paced the aircraft. It seems, then, that the JAL1628 was accompanied during part of its flight by at least two TRUFOS (True UFOs).”123
120. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), “Chronological Summary of the Alleged Aircraft Sightings by Japan Airlines Flight 1628, January 6, 1987.
121. Statement by FAA Regional Director, Paul Steucke, at March 5, 1987, press conference in Anchorage, Alaska. See Anchorage Daily News, March 6, 1987.
122. Maccabee, Bruce, “The Fantastic Flight of JAL1628”, International UFO Reporter, Vol. 12, No. 2, CUFOS, March/April 1987.