Friday, July 18, 2014

JAL 1628: Capt. Terauchi's Marvellous "Spaceship"

A recent email circulating among certain UFO researchers asked, where is the best on-line statement of the skeptic's position on the famous JAL 1628 sighting by Capt. Terauchi on Nov. 17, 1986? Despite it being one of the most celebrated cases in the recent UFO literature, it turns out that there wasn't a lot. To remedy this perceived lack, I scanned all of the press clippings and other papers in my file on the case, and placed it on the Historical Documents page of my website. It contains original press clippings from when the case was first reported, a press release by CSICOP, FAA information, and a "Summary White Paper" about the case by Philip J. Klass. (Page numbers given refer to this PDF document. MUFON, it turns out, has scanned some 377 pages relating to this case, now available in John Greenwald's The Black Vault).
Capt. Terauchi (from People Magazine).
 The San Francisco Chronicle reported on December 30, 1986, "The crew of a Japan Air Lines cargo jet claimed that a UFO with flashing white and yellow strobe lights followed them across the Arctic Circle in route from Reykjavik, Iceland, to Tokyo" (p.1). On January 1, 1987, that paper reported, "A veteran pilot whose UFO sighting was confirmed on radar screens said the thing was so enormous that his Japan Air Lines cargo jet - a Boeing 747 - was tiny compared with the mysterious object" (p.2). In fact, Terauchi said that the object was larger than an “aircraft carrier.” Feeling the heat, the FAA soon re-opened its investigation of the incident. "The reason we're exploring it is that it was a violation of airspace," said FAA spokesman Paul Steucke. "That may sound strange, but that's what it was" (p. 4).

The FAA reviewed its data, and found reasons to doubt its earlier statements. By Jan 8, the press was reporting,
The FAA has concluded that the unidentified object on radar now appears to be an unexplained split image of the JAL Boeing 747 and not a separate object .... The review of radar data indicates that no second object was present and represents a reversal of earlier FAA statements that a second object was confirmed on radar. "The bottom line is that this tells us that we don't have any radar confirmation of the object that the pilot said he saw," Steucke said (p. 5).
The scanned documents from MUFON include a detailed technical analysis from the FAA of the “uncorrelated primary return” on the radar (p. 50-53).

Philip J. Klass investigated, and soon CSICOP issued a Press Release, written by Klass (p. 7):
 At  the  time  the UFO incident began near Ft. Yukon, the JAL airliner was  flying  south  in  twilight  conditions  so  that  an extremely bright Jupiter  (-2.6  magnitude) would have been visible on the pilot's left-hand side, where  he first reported seeing the UFO, according to Klass. Jupiter was  only 10 degrees above the horizon, making it appear to the pilot to be at  roughly  his  own  35,000  ft.  altitude.  Mars,  slightly lower on the horizon, was about 20 degrees to the right of Jupiter but not as bright....Although  the  very  bright  Jupiter,  and less bright Mars, had to be visible  to JAL Capt. Kenjyu Terauchi, the pilot never once reported seeing either  -- only a UFO
 Many  of  the  colorful  details  of  the incident carried by the news media, largely based on the six-week-old recollections of the pilot of JAL Flight  1628,  are  contradicted by a transcript of radio messages from the pilot to FAA controllers while the incident was in progress. For  example, news media accounts quoting the 747 pilot said that when he  executed  a  360 degree turn, the UFO had followed him around the turn. But  this  claim  is contrary to what the pilot told FAA controllers at the time.
An interesting historical footnote: in the press release, Klass credits "astronomers Nick Sanduleak and C. B. Stephenson, of Case   Western   Reserve  University,  in  Cleveland,  for  their  valuable assistance  in  computing  the  positions  and bearings of bright celestial bodies relative to the 747 airliner at the time of the incident." In February 1987, the month after this press release was issued, southern hemisphere astronomers discovered Supernova 1987a, in the Large Magellanic Cloud. It was the brightest supernova seen from Earth since 1604, easily visible to the naked eye. Researchers discovered that the progenitor star (before the Supernova explosion) was a blue giant star known as  Sanduleak -69° 202. Yes, that Nick Sanduleak (1933-1990). He catalogued the stars of the Large Magellanic Cloud. He also discovered Sanduleak's Star, a very unusual object in the Large Magellanic Cloud, with a "giant, highly-collimated bipolar jet." In his spare time he attended CSICOP conferences, where I met him several times, a very friendly fellow. Unfortunately, he died of a cardiac arrest a few years after this.

The FAA issued an in-depth report, with primary references and interviews included. Unfortunately, the FAA charged $194.30 for the complete package, including all written records, photographs, and all tape recordings. It wasn't exactly a best-seller: not too many people were sufficiently interested to send in almost $200 for information about a UFO report. In fact, it sounds very much like the FAA constructed this expensive package to deter the many persons badgering them for information on the case. But that didn't deter Philip J. Klass.

Capt. Terauchi's UFO, as he reported it

Klass wrote an article in The Skeptical Inquirer, Summer 1987: "FAA Data Sheds New Light on JAL Pilot's UFO Report." It was reprinted in the book, The UFO Invasion (Prometheus Books, 1997), Kendrick Frazier, Barry Karr, and Joe Nickell, eds.

Klass wrote,
The FAA data package 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.
 During his January 2 interview with FAA officials, Terauchi said that he believed the "mothership" intentionally positioned itself in the "darkest [easterly] side" of the sky because "I think they did not want to be seen." This enabled the UFO to see the 747 "in front of the sunset and visible for any movement we make." In his report to the FAA, he expressed the hope that "we humans will meet them in the new future"... [On January 11] he again reported spotting unusual lights in roughly the same area while on a repeat flight from Paris to Anchorage...
[Terauchi] always failed to mention that two other aircraft in the area that were vectored into the vicinity of the JAL 747 to try to spot the UFO he had been reporting were unable to see any such object... [Flight Engineer Yoshio Tsukuba] "was not sure whether the object was a UFO or not"... When the copilot [Takanori Tamefuji] was asked if he could distinguish these lights "as being different" from a star, he replied: "No."
Bruce Maccabee has written a very long report (as is his habit) on the JAL 1628 UFO. If you want to read every detail of Capt. Terauchi's account, it is here. Maccabee wrote,
CSICOP was not finished with the case.  Evidently even Phil Klass could see that his Jupiter-Mars explanation had failed. In the Summer, 1987 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer he published a new analysis.  [Actually, Jupiter was still part of Klass' analysis, but the fainter Mars was not.] This time the lights were explained as reflections of moonlight from the clouds and “turbulent ice crystals.”   (Recall that the air crew reported thin clouds below them.)   According to Klass the turbulent ice crystals “could have generated flame-colored lights” and “this would also explain why the undulating lights would periodically and suddenly disappear and then reapper as cloud conditions ahead changed.  When the aircraft finally outflew the ice clouds and the initial ‘UFO’ disappeared for good (the Captain) would search the sky for it, spot Jupiter further to the left and conclude it was the initial UFO.”  Klass attributed the airplane radar sighting to “an echo from thin clouds of ice crystals.”
KLASS’s explanation verges on scientific garbage.  There is no reason to suppose that moonlight reflected off ice crystals in the clouds would generate “flame colored lights.”   Klass’ explanation certainly could not account for the heat which Terauchi felt on his face.  Nor would it explain the distinct arrays of flames or lights associated with two independently flying objects that appeared ahead of the plane and ABOVE for many minutes (the clouds were reported to be below the plane).
While I tend to agree that moonlight reflecting off clouds would probably not make a very good "UFO" display, there are so many sources for 'lights in the sky' (including 'lights on the ground,' which Terauchi agreed with the FAA was an explanation for his January 11 UFO sighting) that once the main "UFO" has been demoted from a giant "mothership" to 'unexplained lights,' it no longer impresses us as much of a mystery. Even J. Allen Hynek was dismissive of  'lights in the sky' UFO reports. The bottom line is, Terauchi's own flight crew saw only 'lights,' and other aircraft checking out the situation saw nothing unusual.

Artist's conception of Capt. Terauchi's UFO

The case merits a chapter (#22) in Leslie Kean's book, UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record. Written by John J. Callahan, he claims that Terauchi's crew "both saw it, too." Of course this is false - they saw only lights, not the giant spaceship that Terauchi reported. Callahan also claims that "it flew alongside his jet" after he turned, but (as Klass notes), this contradicts what Terauchi told FAA controllers at the time. Callahan ices the cake with his claim that the CIA has over 30 minutes of radar data confirming Terauchi's UFO, but they refuse to release it, to prevent public panic.

How credible is Callahan’s account? In 2011, UFO Blogger Ryan Daube wrote,
At this point, Callahan’s credentials and story has never actually been independently confirmed. In fact, back in 2007, as we were attempting to verify his claims, we contacted CIA Science Analyst Ron Pandolfi. Ron admitted that both he and Maccabee had in fact attended an FAA meeting like the one Callahan described. However, he did not recall anyone making any statement that the meeting never happened, or that the data should be covered up…. We contacted Maccabee and he also confirmed that he was at such a meeting and received all of the data for his analysis and report, but he also did not recall anyone at the meeting trying to cover it up.

We reported this contradiction to Leslie Kean of the Coalition for Freedom of Information – the only listed contact for Callahan – and she initially did not believe us. Therefore, I put her in direct contact with Pandolfi and Maccabee, who both told her exactly what they told us. Kean refused to let us speak directly with Callahan to resolve the discrepancy, and eventually refused to cooperate regarding getting any clarification from Callahan.

In fact, Kean completely ignored the contradictory witness statements that she received first-hand, and instead went on to publish a book in 2010 titled UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record, where she repeated Callahan’s testimony in full on page 222, and even focused on the “this never happened” statement.

She completely left out the fact that she had received direct testimony from both a CIA analyst and Bruce Maccabee, stating that they were at such a meeting that matched the meeting John described, and that no one said anything about covering-up.
So much for the credibility of John Callahan. And of Leslie Kean.

Kean is enormously impressed by pilot sightings, which she describes as “a unique window into the unknown.” She writes that pilots “represent the world’s most experienced and best-trained observers of everything that flies… these unique circumstances potentially transform any jet aircraft into a specialized flying laboratory for the study of rare anomalous phenomena.” Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the late USAF Project Blue Book consultant who Kean repeatedly cites as a respected UFO authority, came to exactly the opposite conclusion. On  page  271  of his 1977 book The Hynek UFO Report, he  wrote, “Surprisingly, commercial and military pilots appear to make relatively poor witnesses.” Kean actually quotes from other pages of that book, but makes absolutely no mention of Hynek’s low opinion of pilot sightings.

Re-reading Terauchi's own statements about the incident, I don't think that anyone could call him an unbiased or objective observer. 

(Revised July 24, 2014).


  1. Millions of commercial, military and general aviation flights since then and we're still referring to a 1986 incident? 'Nuff said.

    1. So much for the credibility of John Callahan? You going to throw out Callahan because Maccabee did not recall anyone making any statement that the meeting never happened? Great Detective work! talk about getting rid of inconvenient facts WOW

    2. It's amazing the level people take to throw someone who up until this episode rose to a very high position in the FAA like Callahan did. Callahan stated he was sleeping and the FAA told him to investigate what happened.

      He does what he always did give his report and because he is talking about a UFO report all of a sudden he becomes nothing because it doesn't fit a skeptic's eye. What would that be you may ask, if it isn't seen first hand by them, didn't fall into their lap, couldn't taste it, smell it or have it Analise it never happened or Callahan immediately becomes a liar. Sound familiar????, it happens to every UFO that needs to be dead filed as quickly as possible.

  2. An excellent summary, Robert. I have always thought that this case was all smoke and mirrors.

    1. The FAA chief's story

    2. Apparently when the government gets done with their spin they are all smoke and mirrors.

  3. That's pretty much it: Just some "lights," and repeater Terauchi's small group scare and confabulation erupting from the latent "UFO" delusion. Completely imaginary "Scout ships," a "Spaceship," a "Giant Mothership," the Mantell case, and a ridiculous 360° turn! Then nothing. Showing once again that the "UFO" myth and flying-saucer fairy tales are evidence of nothing but human wishfulness and folly.

    1. Capt.Kenju "Desk Job" Terauchi's Air Tracker Controller (ATC) transcript released...

      Desk Job: Do you have any traffic in front of us?

      ATC: Negative.

      Desk Job: Have visual on a massive walnut-shaped mothership.

      ATC: Wow. Do you wish to maintain your present course?

      Desk Job: Affirmative. (pause).. The object is dangerously close now.

      ATC: Hmm..would you like a higher or lower altitude?

      Desk Job: Ah, negative, we're OK. Wait...the object is now following us.

      ATC: Would you like to change course?

      Desk Job: Ah, nah, were good...hold on, the object is now directly above us and it has tracker beam locked on us.
      We are being pulled into the mothership.

      ATC: Would you like us to scramble military assistance?

      Desk Job: Nah, that's a negative. This is fun.

      ATC: Surely you can't be serious.

      Desk Job: I am serious...and don't call me Shirley.


    3. ignorance wont provide you with answers ! maybe you are frightened that ufo,s are a real phenomena ! sure sounds like you are !

  4. MUFON, it turns out, has scanned some 377 pages relating to this case, now available in John Greenwald's The Black Vault:

    In it we find Terauchi's oroginal UFO drawings on JAL stationary (p. 12), and info from the FAA explaining in detail the "uncorrelated primary return" (p. 50-53) on the radar.

    1. I can no longer find that 377-paqge MUFON file on the Black Vault. However, the Internet Archive Wayback Machine has a copy of it here:

  5. The same poor Terauchi that was grounded from flying?
    Drew a walnut shaped craft the size of an aircraft-carrier?
    That Calahan has verified with FAA tapes that originals were taken?

    Where is the CERVIS Report?(Pilots UFO flight observance statement)

    Klass changing his story from Mars to Ice Crystals?
    The FACT still remains that KLASS worked for G.E.Labs, then "changed" careers to become a journalist for Aviation Week & MR UFO DEBUNKER extradonaire. It truly seems someone saw his real ability not as a physicist or engineer, but as a "Patriot" willing to PUSH any agenda required.........

    I know he was a personal friend & mentor of yours Robert, but what exactly did he do at General Electric?
    Most Physicists & Engineers would RELISH the opportunity to examine advanced technology, be open to new ideas & theories, & would rather be "hands-on" in the laboratory than behind a desk> Klass seems to be an exception to the rule, & his underhanded,backdoor letters of accusation are not very SCIENTIFIC at all........

    1. Deano, Klass worked on (what else?) avionics at G.E. in Schenectady. He'd gotten his degree in E.E. from Iowa State just before the war (and this gave him a draft deferment during WWII). When the avionics position opened up at Aviation Week, Klass considered it a tremendous opportunity (which it was), and moved down to DC. You're being silly to suggest that there is some Conspiracy reason behind this.

    2. Thanks, Robert, I appreciate your work on this post. It is indeed an often discussed case in which fantastic circumstances are frequently asserted.

      As a matter of fact, the sensationalizing of this case as apparently carried out by Kean and Callahan substantially contributed to my decreasing confidence in UFO 'researchers' at large. Whatever may or may not have actually taken place, mystery mongering does nothing to clarify the circumstances.

      I've brought this up here before, and I think it bears repeating... A 'Reality Uncovered' post of substance, IMO, was made on the sensationalizing surrounding the events:

      Thanks again for your contributions, Robert. Appreciated.

    3. :// de mi amigo santiago, grabado cerca de su casa.://

    4. Read the book "Missing Times" about why the MSM rarely reports on UFO's. In it Prometheus Books was listed as a CIA front group as was Klass listed as a paid basher for the CIA. The sad part about this and other stories about UFO sightings is they use the main characters of the sighting to ridicule and rarely do they give the once over to the debunkers. Need a better example. in 1984 at the height of the Hudson Valley Sightings Discover magazine ran a story about pilots flying in formation from a tiny airport in Stormville NY, these formations were at night over populated areas but failed to mention over a Nuclear Power Plant as well. They not only failed to mention that aspect of the sighting but the article?, not one name of a pilot and I have the complete article. But the witnesses not only are they listed with complete names but they are probably exposed as complete babbling drooling idiots.

      When you talk about debunking make it a two way street and if your so hell bent on using your witnesses, they should be as Lilly White as those you obviously expected to be who opened themselves to criticism for reporting what they saw. When you do that your "Revelation" gets taken down a notch, then the very next thing you should ask your ever inquisitive mind is were the people involved thinking about, talking about or secretly planning to create a hoax about a UFO sighting. That question is as easily answered as was the details of your debunkers if you cared to look for the total truth.

      It's always fun to poke and twist a story to meet your objective but when honest people are reporting extraordinary things for absolutely no monetary gain the best questions that need to be answered is why and sometimes the answer isn't always they made a mistaken identification. Maybe your best question would have been who had a better reason to bury the story the FAA or the pilot and crew?, and then Klass and the other debunkers background becomes much more important doesn't it.

  6. There are a couple of episodes of the Exposing PseudoAstronomy podcast which quite useful in regards to cases like this, the first covers the difficulty in estimating the height/distance/speed of a UFO:

    Episode 2: You Can't Know the Distance, Size, and Speed of UFOs

    The other discusses another pilot/UFO believer and is a good antidote to claims that such men are the best judges of what is flying around in the sky with them:

    Episode 19: John Lear

    1. I always get a kick out of when someone on the ground or inflight says "the object was 30 feet in diameter and was going around 1500 mph., blah blah etc. etc."

      I spent 5 years in the Navy as a combat aircrewman onboard Lockheed P-3C Orion's and logged around 2000 hrs. Do you know how hard it is to try and guess the size of an object and the speed it's going by just looking at it? But in most of these UFO reports, whatever is reported is taken as pure fact.

      Like the speed Kenneth Arnold claims the craft he saw were going; wrong.

      And keep in mind, I've been a believer in UFO's since 1979. It's just that I'm a skeptical believer.

    2. Kenneth Arnold saw a fleet of hortan 229s. He even sketched their shape!! and that's what started this.

    3. Kenneth Arnold saw a fleet of hortan 229s. And indeed sketched them too!

  7. When it comes to outer space, aliens, planets with living extraterrestrial life advanced further than ours we just don't know what we don't know!!!

  8. The FAA chief's Story

  9. What and where is the evidence that Terauchi was a "repeater"? What kinds of objects had he previously reported seeing? Don't most pilots see stuff like this several times in a long career like his?

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. If this case wasn't real and one of the top ten cases of all time you debunkers wouldn't still be talking about it. It was well documented along with the CONFISCATED evidence including RADAR that was taken as Callahan stated. This case has and will always stand the test of time. Which is why in the delusional world of debunkerville they can't leave this seminole case alone. The Mother Ship as Capt. Teruchi called it and correctly so is the real reason debunkers cannot leave this case alone. You can try to remove my comments as I have seen you did to others but you will never ever win in trying to continue lying to the people. Humanity will know the truth and the truth will set us free. And lastly this case has NOTHING I REPEAT NOTHING to do with little green men or grey aliens or any other kind of aliens.

    1. > The Mother Ship as Capt. Teruchi called it and correctly so
      > NOTHING I REPEAT NOTHING to do with...aliens.

      Just to be clear, what kind of non-aliens use a mothership?

  12. Makes more critical sense to believe the account of Capt Terauchi than the author of this article.
    The author if this article has a clear agenda to discredit all ufo witnesses, but Capt Terauchi only had an agenda to get his cargo to it's destination without incident.
    What makes more sense- an incomprehensibly large universe without intelligent creatures visiting and studying us on our planet? Or an incomprehensibly large universe with intelligent creatures visiting and studying us on our planet?

    The mathematical odds of the former are so tiny that to consider it for any longer than it takes to read this comment would indicate a total lack of critical thought.

    UFO's and aliens exist, as do black holes. I've never seen either, but I'm not stupid enough to refute the logic of them.

  13. > The mathematical odds of the former are so tiny

    Please show us your equation. Be sure to put in bold the part that calculates the probability of interstellar travel over several light years.

  14. Skimmed through the reports that you linked to. I am a UFO skeptic and I am also fluent in Japanese so I know what the other crew members are trying to say from the rough English translations, I deal with this every day. The one I read states clearly (to me) that they saw other flying machines like planes near their plane that had lights on them. They did not see just "lights." Later on perhaps someone wrote that but it was not from the interviews. Did you read their account from the interviews. My assumption is that this was probably some Russian experimental planes, of course some kind of reflection is possible but very unlikely. These two seem most reasonable to me from the account. Also in the report the radar is only unconfirmed because of the lack of a transponder on the other flying machine or object, not due to it being missing from the radar. Please revise your article to include the correct details that Terauchi-san is not the only observer and that the other crew also saw clear objects and not just lights, and that the radar in inconclusive because whatever appeared to be there did not have a transponder. No more time to read... back to work. And check what I state because I just skimmed the MUFON report and could be wrong.

  15. Thanks for this article, Robert Sheaffer. I've been a ufo enthusiast since I was a kid. I saw one on two occasions. However, I'm now convinced they must have been hallucinations of some kind. Your website has changed my views on most of the ufo or alien reports I've read about, and I've read a lot. Keep up the good work.

  16. Now lets see here if I get this right. Capt Terauchi was a repeater UFO nut, his co-pilots only saw stars/lights, the radar returns were an unexplained split image, Callahan is not credible or a liar and Leslie Kean has duped us all with accounts of pilot sightings. I would say that is quite a tale that belongs in the trash can. Skeptics will say and attack anyone without much evidence detailing the whole story. Picking an choosing to suit their mythical believes. Klass was an expert at this.

  17. Klass says "At the time the UFO incident began near Ft. Yukon, the JAL airliner was flying south in twilight conditions so that an extremely bright Jupiter (-2.6 magnitude) would have been visible on the pilot's left-hand side"

    To accept the Jupiter hypothesis, the plane cannot have been travelling south when the objects were first spotted, as Jupiter and Mars were themselves due south....which would have meant the objects were straight ahead and NOT on the left hand side.

  18. Before you can claim it was aliens, you first have to prove they exist. Then you have to prove that it was what they saw and not natural/manmade phenomena.

    Its the same as saying that you saw leprechauns prancing and teleporting around your house. You first have to prove that the leprechauns exist...and then everything else they did. But the cops may or may not have seen a small person walking out your back door! That's proof!

    Of course, anybody here would laugh and say its extremely unlikely. It could of been anything - you could of been on drugs or schizo. What a load of crap, right?

    But when it comes to aliens, all rational thought disappears. ALIENS!


    People like to use science to try and prove aliens when its science that is forced to conclude that they don't even exist. In fact, just by probability alone, its still much more likely that a long series of rare, coincidental events occurred over aliens - lights, distortions, radar issues, all of it, plus a bolt of lightning thrown by Russian space planes for good measure - combined. And its not even close.

    But if you want to believe in gods, go ahead.

  19. let's face it, we are not alone...The Gov't does not want to panic
    us as Orson Welles did in 1939..The Navy finally agreed that we do
    have UFO.


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