It was just a routine flight. Well, not exactly routine… It was a special Japan Air Lines 747 cargo flight to carry a load of French wine from Paris to Tokyo.
The flight plan would carry flight 1628 from Paris to Reykjavik, Iceland, across the North Atlantic and Greenland, then across Canada to Anchorage, Alaska, and finally across the Pacific to Tokyo.
The crew consisted of veteran Captain Kenju Terauchi, co-pilot Takanori Tamefuji, and flight engineer Yoshio Tsukuba.
On November 16, 1986, laden with wine, JAL1628 took off from Paris and flew the first leg of the trip, to Reykjavik. The next day, they continued, flying over Greenland and then across northern Canada without event.
Just after they crossed into Alaska, at 5:09 PM local time, Anchorage Air Traffic Control contacted them on the radio to report initial radar contact. The Anchorage flight controller asked them to turn 15 degrees to the left and head for a point known as Talkeetna on a heading of 215 degrees. They were at 35,000 feet and traveling at a ground speed of about 600 mph.
At about 5:11 PM local time, Captain Terauchi noticed the lights of some sort of aircraft about 2000 feet below and 30 degrees to the left front of them. He decided that the aircraft was probably an American jet fighter from nearby Eielson or Elmendorf Air Force Bases patrolling Alaskan airspace, so he ignored them at first.
However, after a few minutes, he noticed that the lights were keeping pace with his own aircraft, which would be an unusual thing for patrolling jets to do.
It was about seven or so minutes since we began paying attention to the lights (when), most unexpectedly, two spaceships stopped in front of our face, shooting off lights. The inside cockpit shined brightly and I felt warm in the face.
Terauchi said that it was his impression that the two objects he had seen below them minutes before had suddenly jumped in from of him. The craft, one above the other, kept pace with the 747 for several minutes, moving in unison with an odd rocking motion.
After about seven minutes, they changed to a side-by-side arrangement.
Terauchi said that the “amber and whitish” lights were like flames coming out of multiple rocket exhaust ports arranged in two rectangular rows on the craft. He felt that they fired in a particular sequence to stabilize the craft, much like the small maneuvering thrusters on the Space Shuttle.
He also reported seeing sparks like a fire when using gasoline or carbon fuel.
Co-pilot Tamefuji described the lights as “Christmas assorted” lights with a “salmon” color. He said: I remember red or orange, and white landing light, just like a landing light. And weak green, ah, blinking. He also described the lights as pulsating slowly. They became stronger, became weaker., became stronger, became weaker, different from strobe lights.
The lights were “swinging” in unison as if there were “very good formation flight… close” of two aircraft side by side.
He described the appearance of the lights as similar to seeing “night flight head-on traffic,” where it is only possible to see the lights on an approaching aircraft and “we cannot see the total shape.”
He said, I’m sure I saw something. It was clear enough to make me believe that there was an oncoming aircraft.
Flight engineer Tsukuba, who sat behind the copilot, did not have as good a view of the lights. He first saw them “through the L1 window at the 11 o’clock position,” and he saw “clusters of lights undulating.”
These clusters were “made of two parts… shaped like windows of an airplane.”
He emphasized that “the lights in front of us were different from town lights.”
He described the colors as white or amber.
Tamefuji decided to call Anchorage Air Traffic Control, and for the next thirty minutes the 747 and AARTCC were in constant contact regarding the UFO.
During this time, Captain Terauchi asked Tskububa to hand him a camera so that he could attempt to take a photograph of the lights. However, Terauchi was unfamiliar with the camera and could not get it to operate. Tsukuba also could not get his camera to operate due to problems with the auto-focus and finally gave up trying to take a photo.
At this point they began experiencing some radio interference and were asked by Anchorage to change frequencies. Terauchi later said that Anchorage kept asking him about clouds in the immediate area:
They asked us several times if there were clouds near our altitude. We saw thin and spotty clouds near the mountain below us, no clouds in mid-to-upper air, and the air current was steady.
Soon after the exchanges about clouds, the objects flew off to the left. Terauchi said later: “There was a pale white flat light in the direction where the ships flew away, moving in a line along with us, in the same direction and same speed and at the same altitude as we were.”
Terauchi decided to see whether they could see anything on the 747’s own radar:
“I thought it would be impossible to find anything on an aircraft radar if a large ground radar did not show anything, but I judged the distance of the object visually and it was not very far.
“I set the digital weather radar distance to 20 (nautical) miles, radar angle to horizon (i.e., no depression angle). There it was on the screen. A large green and round object had appeared at 7 or 8 miles (13 km to 15 km) away, where the direction of the object was.
” We reported to Anchorage center that our radar caught the object within 7 or 8 miles in the 10 o’clock position. We asked them if they could catch it on ground radar, but it did not seem they could catch it at all.”
At 5:25:45, after spending two minutes looking, the military radar at Elmendorf Regional Operational Control Center also picked up something. The ROCC radar controller reported back to the AARTCC that he was getting some “surge primary return.” By this he meant an occasional radar echo unaccompanied by a transponder signal.
As the 747 neared Fairbanks:
“The lights (of the city) were extremely bright to eyes that were used to the dark. (The cockpit lights had been turned off to eliminate window reflections of internal lights.) We were just above the bright city lights and we checked the pale white light behind us.
” Alas! There was a silhouette of a gigantic spaceship.
“We must run away quickly! Anchorage Center.”
The JAL1628 is requesting a change of course to right 45 degrees.” It felt like a long time before we received permission.”
Just after the plane turned to the right, the AARTCC controller called the Fairbanks Approach Radar controller to find out whether or not the short-range radar had a target near the JAL. The approach radar reported no target other than JAL1628.
The plane came out of the turn and flew toward Talkeetna at an altitude of 31,000 ft, with the object still following.
At about 5:40, a United Airlines passenger jet took off from Anchorage and headed north to Fairbanks. The AARTCC controller decided to ask the UA pilot to try to see the object that was following the JAL flight.
The UA pilot said he would look when he got closer. The controller asked the JAL flight to stay at 31,000 ft, and the UA flight to stay at 29,000 ft. He then directed the UA flight to turn some more so that the planes would pass within five miles of one another.
As the United Airlines jet got closer, the UFO apparently dropped behind, allowing the JAL plane to get far ahead. The United pilot asked the AARTCC to have the JAL pilot flash the headlights on the JAL aircraft so he could locate the plane.
At 5:49:45 the JAL pilot did that. At this point the planes were about 25 miles apart.
When the planes were about 12 miles apart, the UA plane reported seeing the JAL plane and nothing else. But by this time the UFO had apparently disappeared, not being seen by JAL1628, either.
At about 5:51, the AARTCC requested that a military TOTEM flight in the area also fly toward the JAL plane for a look. During the next several minutes TOTEM viewed the JAL plane, but couldn’t see any other traffic. JAL1628 proceeded to Anchorage and landed at 6:20 PM.
The FAA conducted an investigation of the incident, and did not issue its final report until March 5.
CSICOP’s (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) Phil Klass issued a premature statement on January 22 claiming that the UFOs were the planets Jupiter and Mars – an impossible solution because the UFO was seen in a part of the sky opposite the position of these planets and because the UFOs moved from positions one above the other to side by side.
CSICOP later issued a second explanation that the UFO was light reflecting off of clouds of ice crystals – also unlikely because the sky was clear at the reported altitude of the UFO. The FAA attributed the radar images received by ground radar to a “split radar return from the JAL Boeing 747.”