Japan Airlines Flight 1628 originated in Paris and was bound for Tokyo loaded with cases of wine from the Beaujolais region of France. To this day, Tokyo has a love affair with the Beaujolais Nouveau vintage and locals celebrate the annual French release of the new harvest on the third Thursday of November with parties and wine baths. This particular long haul flight plan would take the familiar polar route over Greenland with fuel stops in Reykjavik Iceland and Anchorage Alaska before finishing the journey in Japan.
At the Reykjavik stop, the three-man flight crew consisting of Captain Kenju Terauchi, First Officer Takanori Tamefuji, and Flight Engineer, Yoshio Tsukuba took over operations for the flight leg to Anchorage and boarded the Boeing 747 cargo plane. The crew was relaxed as the flight time was an easy six hours and twenty minutes, a relatively short hop for a cargo haul. They took off without incident at 8:42pm local time with an early expected arrival around 6:00pm in Alaska. Their sense of ease, however, would prove to be the calm before the storm. Just after the plane crossed the US-Canada border at approximately 5:00pm Alaska time, the Japanese flight crew experienced something that would hit major television and media news desks and reverberate around the globe for decades to come.
After crossing into U.S. airspace near the vicinity of Fort Yukon, Alaska, JAL 1628 Captain Terauchi noticed what appeared to be two aircraft flying at roughly the same altitude in front of them and to their left at the 11:00 o’clock position. Initially the crew ignored the white and amber lights of the aircraft, believing them to be two military craft from one of the local bases. After several minutes of observation, the two aircraft had not changed their location. They were maintaining the exact same speed and position as the Boeing 747 cargo airliner travelling at 900 kph.
At this point First Officer Tamefuji inquired to Anchorage Traffic Control to see if there was any “traffic” in the area. Anchorage reported negative. There was no other traffic in the area.
Captain Terauchi then took out his camera and attempted to take a photo of the aircraft lit up in front of them, however he could not work the camera and he had the wrong film for nighttime conditions. The crew then used their onboard weather radar to attempt to make a hit on the unknown aircraft and were successful. When Anchorage asked again if they still had visual contact, Terauchi responded affirmative and that their radar indicated the aircraft were seven to eight miles in front of them.
Then Anchorage sees something on radar, too. Except they see a craft exactly five miles behind JAL 1628 at their six o’clock position. Captain Terauchi responds “Negative – eight miles ahead at 11:00 o’clock”, exactly as the crew had reported previously based on their internal observations and radar readings. Anchorage then brings in the regional air traffic control (ROCC) team and asks if they see anything and if they can confirm there are no military craft in the area. ROCC confirms that there are no military craft and that they, too, can confirm JAL 1628’s position and something in front of them at their 10:00 o’clock position at about the same distance (seven-eight miles).
ROCC and Anchorage both lose radar contact of the object (both in front of and behind JAL 1628) shortly thereafter, however as they are approaching Fairbanks, Capt. Terauchi insists that now there is one large aircraft directly behind them. Captain Terauchi would later state and add drawings depicting the UFO craft to be many times “larger than an aircraft carrier”.
Anchorage asks the Fairbanks air traffic control to confirm, however they see nothing except for JAL 1628 on radar. Anchorage suggests to the the JAL crew that they could have a military aircraft scramble to fly up and confirm the unidentified aircraft. The crew quickly rejects the offer out of fear for their safety. Anchorage then asks the nearby United Airlines flight UA69 traveling to Fairbanks if they can get a visually of the UFO following JAL 1628 and they, too, can only see the Japanese cargo plane ; and this is where the media firestorm started.
An experienced major airline captain with nearly 30 years’ flight experience reports seeing multiple unidentified flying objects. The same reported objects are independently confirmed on government radar. Terauchi’s crew gives consistent independent accounts to FAA investigators after the incident.
Much like the “tic-tac” incidents involving UFO’s encountered by military fighter pilots over the last decade, it took years for the official government documents to be released to the public regarding JAL Flight 1628. I encourage everyone to dig through the more than 1500 pages of FAA documents including interviews, flight paths, weather, radar, press releases, etc. and judge for yourselves as to what happened over Alaska on the evening of November 17th, 1986. For a pilot of decades of experience Terauchi is still perplexed.
“Once upon a time if a hunter saw a television, how did he describe it to other people? My experience was similar to this.”
These are the first sentences that Japan Airlines Captain Kenju Terauchi wrote down via translator in his official recount to the Federal Aviation Administration regarding the events that took place in the skies over Alaska during the twilight hours on November 17th, 1986.
The occurrence took place over what is known as the Alaska Triangle, where over 16,000 people have disappeared since the late 1980’s. Does this have something to do with the event?
Over the week following the JAL Flight 1628 encounter, numerous Native and First Nations tribal members in northern Alaska and Yukon Territory described seeing similar lights in the sky and mysterious crafts landing in arctic lakes during late November, 1986. Some of the crafts were said to be piloted or ferrying large hairy men. For a fascinating recap of these events as well as further insight into JAL 1628, take a listen to our October 2019 Podcast .
Let us know what you think! Some of the FAA investigators have sided with Captain Terauchi – others have explained the 1986 event away as simple radar error. What about the other events that occurred up north in the days following that are eerily similar to what the JAL 1628 crew experienced?
By Kevin Weberling
Research Writer, Sasquatch Syndicate Inc.