In late 2011, American aid worker Jessica Buchanan and a Danish colleague were abducted in Somalia and held captive for 93 days. With negotiations failing and her health declining, President Obama gave the go ahead for a dramatic rescue lead by the U.S. Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six. Tonight on 360, Buchanan and her husband recount her harrowing abduction and amazing rescue. They also share their remarkable story in the new book “Impossible Odds.”
“I felt like I was in the most impossible situation,” Buchanan told Anderson. Her kidnappers were Somali pirates who had moved their operation from sea to land. The pirates were high from chewing khat, a plant that acts as an amphetamine-like stimulant. They demanded $45 million in ransom. The pirates kept asking how could her family not have the money. She says she constantly told them, “I’m just an aid worker.”
According to Buchanan, the most terrifying pirate was an 11-year-old boy. He was walking around with a machine gun and draped in ammunition. “He followed me and terrorized me through the whole ordeal.”
Buchanan and her colleague, Poul Thisted, were held in the desert for more than three months, exposed to the sun and stars. There was no tent. No cover when it rained or got cold. “There was nothing to wash with… hygiene was a huge issue,” Buchanan explained. Due to the unsanitary conditions, she got a painful urinary tract infection and feared it would turn into a kidney problem if she didn’t get medication soon.
“I’m not going to make it. I think I’m going to die here,” Buchanan told her family when the pirates let her call them weeks into her ordeal. Soon after that call, Pres. Obama approved a mission for SEAL Team Six to rescue Buchanan and her colleague. She had no idea the White House was aware of her nightmare.
The American government knew a lot because U.S. drones were above that desert camp watching every move.
When SEAL Team Six snuck into the camp in the dark of night, initially Buchanan tried to fight back. She feared they were now going into the hands of al-Shabaab militants, an al-Qaeda affiliated group in Somalia. Then she heard a man say her name. “He says, ‘Jessica,’ and all I can think is, you know, it’s such a different voice with an American accent.” That man told her he was with the American military and explained, “we’re here to save you and here to take you home.”
Tonight at 8 p.m. ET, Buchanan shares more incredible moments from her rescue and days in captivity. Find out how she’s doing now and if she will ever go back to Somalia.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with