Japan Air Lines Cargo Flight 1628 was a UFO incident that occurred on November 17, 1986 involving a Japanese Boeing 747-200F cargo aircraft. The aircraft was en route from Paris to Narita International Airport, near Tokyo, with a cargo of Beaujolais wine. On the Reykjavík to Anchorage section of the flight, at 17:11 over eastern Alaska, the crew first witnessed two unidentified objects to their left. These abruptly rose from below and closed in to escort their aircraft. Each had two rectangular arrays of what appeared to be glowing nozzles or thrusters, though their bodies remained obscured by darkness. When closest, the aircraft's cabin was lit up and the captain could feel their heat on his face. These two craft departed before a third, much larger disk-shaped object started trailing them. Anchorage Air Traffic Control requested an oncoming United Airlines flight to confirm the unidentified traffic, but when it and a military craft sighted JAL 1628 at about 17:51, no other craft could be distinguished. The sighting lasted 50 minutes and ended in the vicinity of Denali.
On November 17, 1986, the Japanese crew of a JAL Boeing 747 cargo freighter witnessed three unidentified objects after sunset while flying over eastern Alaska. The objects seemed to prefer the cover of darkness to their left, and to avoid the brighter skies to their right. At least the first two of the objects were observed by all three crew members: Captain Kenju Terauchi (寺内謙寿, Terauchi Kenju), an ex-fighter pilot with more than 10,000 hours flight experience, in the cockpit's left-hand seat; co-pilot Takanori Tamefuji (為藤隆憲, Tamefuji Takanori) in the right-hand seat; and flight engineer Yoshio Tsukuba (佃善雄, Tsukuba Yoshio).
The routine cargo flight entered Alaska on auto-pilot, cruising at 565 mph (909 km/h) at an altitude of 35,000 ft (11,000 m). At 17:09, the Anchorage ATC advised a new heading towards Talkeetna, Alaska.
As soon as JAL 1628 straightened out of its turn, at 17:11, Captain Terauchi noticed two craft to his far left, and some 2,000 ft (610 m) below his altitude, which he assumed to be military aircraft. These were pacing his flight path and speed. At 17:18 or 17:19 the two objects abruptly veered to a position about 500 ft (150 m) or 1,000 ft (300 m) in front of the aircraft, assuming a stacked configuration.
In doing so they activated "a kind of reverse thrust, and [their] lights became dazzlingly bright". To match the speed of the aircraft from their sideways approach, the objects displayed what Terauchi described as a disregard for inertia: "The thing was flying as if there was no such thing as gravity. It sped up, then stopped, then flew at our speed, in our direction, so that to us it [appeared to be] standing still. The next instant it changed course. ... In other words, the flying object had overcome gravity." The "reverse thrust" caused a bright flare for three to seven seconds, to the extent that captain Terauchi could feel the warmth of their glows.
Air traffic control was notified at this point (at 17:19:15), who could not confirm any traffic in the indicated position. After three to five minutes the objects assumed a side-to-side configuration, which they maintained for another 10 minutes. They accompanied the aircraft with an undulating motion, and some back and forth rotation of the jet nozzles, which seemed to be under automatic control, causing them to flare with brighter or duller luminosity.
Each object had a square shape, consisting of two rectangular arrays of what appeared to be glowing nozzles or thrusters, separated by a dark central section. Captain Terauchi speculated in his drawings, that the objects would appear cylindrical if viewed from another angle, and that the observed movement of the nozzles could be ascribed to the cylinders' rotation. The objects left abruptly at about 17:23:13, moving to a point below the horizon to the east.
|Excerpt of communication with Anchorage ARTC Center|
|17:18 or 17:19 AKST||AARTCC[note 1] audiotape||[Two craft, first noticed at a distance at 17:11, approach to within 500–1,000 ft from the cockpit.]|
|17:19:15||JAL-1628, First officer||Anchorage Center, Japan Air 1628, ah, do you have any traffic, ah, seven [i.e., eleven] o'clock above?|
|17:19:24||AARTCC, Carl Henley||JAL1628 heavy, say again...|
|17:19:28||JAL-1628||Ah, do you have any traffic in front of us?|
|17:19:32||AARTCC||JAL1628 heavy, roger.|
|17:19:36||JAL-1628||Ah, roger and, ah, we insight, ah, two traffic, ah, in front of us one mile about.|
|17:19:49||AARTCC||JAL1628, roger, do you have.., ah, can you identify the aircraft?|
|17:19:58||JAL-1628||Ah, we are not sure, but we have traffic in sight now.|
|17:20:04||AARTCC||JAL1628 heavy, roger. Maintain visual contact with your traffic and, ah, can you say the altitude of the traffic?|
|17:20:14||JAL-1628||Uh, almost the same altitude.|
|17:20:21||AARTCC||JAL1628 roger. Would you like a higher or lower altitude?|
|17:20:27||JAL-1628||Ah, no, negative. JAL1628.|
|17:21:19||AARTCC||JAL1628 heavy, see if you are able to identify the type of aircraft, ah, and see if you can tell whether it's military or civilian.|
|17:21:35||JAL-1628||JAL1628. We cannot identify the type, ah, but we can see, ah, navigation lights and ah, strobe lights.|
|17:21:48||AARTCC||Roger, sir. Say the color of the strobe and beacon lights.|
|17:21:56||JAL-1628||The color is, ah, white and yellow, I think.|
|17:22:03||AARTCC||White and yellow. Thank you.|
|17:21||AARTCC, Watch supervisor's entry||Daily Record of Facility Operation|
5:21 PM. JL1628, HB747, BIKF–ANC reported traffic at his altitude (FL350) one mile with a white and yellow strobe. AAL ROC[note 2] and EDF ROCC notified.[note 3] No known traffic identified.
|AARTCC||OK. We have no, we have confirmed we have no military aircraft working up there.|
|After three to five minutes the two craft change their relative position, which is not reported to AARTCC, and the captain unsuccessfully attempts to photograph them.|
|17:22:11||AARTCC||[Requests information about weather and clouds]|
|17:22:41||AARTCC||[Informs JAL-1628 that transmissions are garbled and asks them to change transmitting frequencies.]|
|17:23:05||JAL-1628||[Reports clouds below them].|
|17:23:13||JAL-1628||And now the target, ah, traffic is extinguished [i.e., disappeared]. We cannot see it now.|
|VHF transmissions have returned to normal after 10 to 15 minutes of heavy interference.|
|17:23:19||AARTCC||JAL1628 roger. And I'm not receiving any radar replies.|
Where the first objects disappeared, Captain Terauchi now noticed a pale band of light that mirrored their altitude, speed and direction. Setting their onboard radar scope to a 25 nautical miles (46 km) range, he confirmed an object in the expected 10 o'clock direction at about 7.5 nmi (13.9 km) distance, and informed ATC of its presence. Anchorage found nothing on their radar, but Elmendorf's NORAD Regional Operations Control Center (ROCC), directly in his flight path, reported a "surge primary return" after some minutes.
As the city lights of Fairbanks began to illuminate the object, captain Terauchi believed to perceive the outline of a gigantic spaceship on his port side that was "twice the size of an aircraft carrier". It was, however, outside first officer Tamefuji's field of view. The object followed "in formation", or in the same relative position throughout the 45 degree turn, a descent from 35,000 to 31,000 ft, and a 360 degree turn.[inconsistent] The short-range radar at Fairbanks airport failed, however, to register the object.
Anchorage ATC offered military intervention, which was declined by the pilot, due to his knowledge of the Mantell incident. The object was not noted by any of two planes which approached JAL 1628 to confirm its presence, by which time JAL 1628 had also lost sight of it. JAL 1628 arrived safely in Anchorage at 18:20.
Captain Terauchi cited in the official Federal Aviation Administration report that the object was a UFO. In December 1986, Terauchi gave an interview to two Kyodo News journalists. JAL soon grounded him for talking to the press and moved him to a desk job. He was reinstated as a pilot several years later, and retired eventually in the north Kanto, Japan.
Kyodo News contacted Paul Steucke, the FAA public information officer in Anchorage on December 24, and received confirmation of the incident, followed by UPI on the 29th. The FAA's Alaskan Region consulted John Callahan,[note 4] the FAA Division Chief of the Accidents and Investigations branch, as they wanted to know what to tell the media about the UFO. John Callahan was unaware of any such incident, considering it a likely early flight of a stealth bomber, then in development. He asked the Alaskan Region to forward the relevant data to their technical center in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he and his superior played back the radar data and tied it in with the voice tapes by videotaping the concurrent playbacks.
A day later at FAA headquarters, they briefed Vice Admiral Donald D. Engen, who watched the whole video of over half an hour, and asked them not to talk to anybody until they were given the OK, and to prepare an encompassing presentation of the data for a group of government officials the next day. The meeting was attended by representatives of the FBI, CIA and President Reagan's Scientific Study Team, among others. Upon completion of the presentation, all present were told that the incident was secret and that their meeting "never took place". According to Callahan, the officials considered the data to represent the first instance of recorded radar data on a UFO, and they took possession of all the presented data. John Callahan however managed to retain the original video, the pilot's report and the FAA's first report in his office. The forgotten target print-outs of the computer data were also rediscovered, from which all targets can be reproduced that were in the sky at the time.
After a three-month investigation, the FAA formally released their results at a press conference held on March 5, 1987. Here Paul Steucke retracted earlier FAA suggestions that their controllers confirmed a UFO, and ascribed it to a "split radar image" which appeared with unfortunate timing. He clarified that "the FAA [did] not have enough material to confirm that something was there", and though they were "accepting the descriptions by the crew" they were "unable to support what they saw". The McGrath incident was revealed here amongst the ample set of documents supplied to the journalists.
The sighting received special attention from the media, as a supposed instance of the tracking of UFOs on both ground and airborne radar, while being observed by experienced airline pilots, with subsequent confirmation by an FAA Division Chief.
UFO researcher Philip J. Klass investigated the incident and wrote in his book The UFO Invasion that:
The FAA [information] reveals Terauchi to be a “UFO repeater,” with two other UFO sightings prior to November 17, and two more this past January, which normally raises a “caution flag” for experienced UFO investigators. The JAL pilot is convinced that UFOs are extraterrestrial and when describing the light(s) Terauchi often used the term spaceship or mothership.— Philip J. Klass, The UFO Invasion (1997)
According to UFO skeptic Robert Sheaffer, "[t]he bottom line is, Terauchi’s own flight crew saw only 'lights,' and other aircraft checking out the situation saw nothing unusual."
On 29 January 1987[note 5] at 18:40, Alaska Airlines Flight 53 observed a fast moving object on their onboard weather radar. While at 35,000 ft (11,000 m), some 60 miles (97 km) west of McGrath, on a flight from Nome to Anchorage, the radar registered a strong target in their 12 o'clock position, at 25 miles (40 km) range.
While they could not distinguish any object or light visually, they noticed that the radar object was increasing its distance at a very high rate. With every sweep of their radar, about 1 second apart, the object added five miles to its distance, translating to a speed of 18,000 mph (29,000 km/h). The pilot however relayed a speed of 'a mile a second' to the control tower, or a speed of 3,600 mph (5,800 km/h), but confirmed that the target exceeded both the 50 mi (80 km) and 100 mi (160 km) ranges of their radar scope in a matter of seconds. The object was outside the radar range of the Anchorage ARTCC, and additional radar data covering the specified time and location failed to substantiate the pilots' claim.
|Excerpt from communication with Anchorage ATC (ZAN)|
|18:39:30||ZAN||Alaska fifty-three, go ahead.|
|18:39:33||AS-53||Any traffic in this, ah, area do you? Headed towards Anchorage.|
|18:39:36||ZAN||Ah, I have one coming outbound from Anchorage towards McGrath at this time. It's a Piper Navajo at twelve thousand and, ah, I have a same direction Ryan Air Beech zero two estimating over McGrath zero four zero eight at two five zero. Other than that I don't have any other airplanes.|
|18:39:52||AS-53||Okay we're just curious up at about our altitude, ah, headed that direction, thanks. You haven't had any UFO reports lately, huh?|
|18:40:10||ZAN||Well, I was just getting ready to ask you about that, ah, could you tell me, ah, the position of that aircraft?|
|18:40:15||AS-53||Yea, it's just underneath our radar. Picked up a blip. Moving about a mile a second. Just pulled out straight ahead of us, and disappeared. (garbled) shot at him but ah ... Then he was there, then he was gone.|
|18:40:26||ZAN||Alaska fifty-three, Roger. And, ah, ah, did you have any visual sighting with that aircraft or anything like that?|
|18:40:32||AS-53||Negative. We just picked up on radar the, ah, traffic and, ah, just watched it, just pulled out straight ahead of us and just disappeared in a matter of seconds.|
|18:40:41||ZAN||Alaska fifty-three, Roger. Standby, please.|
|18:44:31||AS-53||Anchorage. Alaska fifty-three, McGrath.|
|18:44:34||ZAN||Alaska fifty-three go ahead.|
|18:44:36||AS-53||Fifty-three McGrath at zero three four four level three five zero. Anchorage zero four one four landing.|
|18:44:45||ZAN||Alaska fifty-three, Roger. Contact Anchorage Center one one eight point two six zero DME southeast of McGrath. And I just checked on this, we don't have military as active. There shouldn't be any military aircraft. Over, we're, ah, not talking too at this time operating in your vicinity. Ah, have you shown any else on radar since that last, ah, contact?|
|18:45:03||AS-53||Ah, no sir.|
|18:45:06||ZAN||Alaska fifty-three. Will see you next time. Good day.|
A US Air Force KC-135 jet flying from Anchorage to Fairbanks once again observed a very large, disk-shaped object on January 30, 1987. The pilot reported that the object was 12 m (40 ft) from the aircraft. The object then disappeared out of sight.
|Excerpts of communication with Anchorage ATC Center|
|KC-135||Do you have traffic for us around one o'clock? Can't really tell the distance. Seems to be about low altitude.|
|AATCC||Actor two nine. Negative. I have no traffic in your one o'clock.|
|KC-135||We're from California. Just visiting up here. People see this sort of thing a lot? Apart from the Japan Airline types?|
|AATCC||Actor two nine. Very rare seeing the lights up there.|
|AATCC||Actor two nine. The quality assurance staff at Anchorage Center here request that you give them a call after you land at Eielson.|
|KC-135||That is concerning the object we were looking at?|
The incident was described on an episode of the documentary series The Unexplained Files, broadcast on Science Channel on 23 September 2014.
Alaska UFO Day, held on November 17th, has was established in 2012 to remember the JAL 1628 incident and to acknowledge other UFO sightings within the state.