60 Minutes: The Rescue of Jessica Buchanan
SEAL Team 6 is getting quite a reputation as an unstoppable military force. Their latest exploit making headlines is the rescue of Jessica Buchanan. Though it took place in January 2012, we are only learning the full details of the story now, nearly 18 months later. Scott Pelley got to speak with Buchanan for his 60 Minutes report. She also tells her own story in the book Impossible Odds.
60 Minutes: Jessica Buchanan Kidnapping
The highly trained Navy SEALs were sent to rescue Jessica Buchanan, a humanitarian aid worker who had been taken hostage. Her crisis began three months earlier when Somali carjackers took her vehicle by storm.
She expected to be physically attacked and killed by her captors, but at age 32, she did not want to see these moments be the end of her life. Somalia, in East Africa, is an unforgiving and lawless place.
Buchanan was there in 2011 to teach children about how they could avoid landmines. That’s how her trip started, but it was nothing compared to the way it ended. Buchanan recalled that the crew of carjackers included a child soldier, whom she said was “learning the trade.”
60 Minutes: Somali Aid Workers Taken Hostage
She and colleague Poul Thisted were shifted from car to car and eventually marched into the desert in the dead of night. Buchanan said she expected to die that night. Instead, they were told to go to sleep.
When morning came, she and her co-worker met with the man who kidnapped them. The ransom demand started at $45 million. The captors could not get in touch with her husband, Erik Landemalm, or anyone else in her phone.
The charity Buchanan worked for had a plan for this type of situation, and the one number that had not been disconnected was the office in Nairobi. There, a hostage negotiator was waiting to try and secure her rescue.
60 Minutes: What Is Khat?
For the next 93 days, she was forced to live and sleep outside, even when it would rain all night long. She was fed tuna fish and bread, about once a day. “They treated us like animals,” she said. “Their duty was to keep me from dying, because then I wasn’t worth anything.”
Her captors chewed a plant called Khat, which acts like an amphetamine. When the effects wore off, she recalled that those watching her would become short-tempered.
She and Thisted came up with nicknames for their guards, to help pass the time. During this saga, Buchanan lost 25 pounds. They also forced Buchanan to make a video to prove that she was still alive, just one month into her captivity.
60 Minutes: Navy SEALs & Jessica Buchanan
Jessica said she did not think the United States would be acting for her safe return. She also got a urinary tract infection, and she told her aid worker that she thought she was very sick. “I’m afraid I’m going to die out here,” she recalled.
That call set in motion the beginning of her rescue operation. Deducing through consultation with medical authorities that she might only have weeks to live, the military informed the president of her situation, as well as the opportunity for a rescue under the darkness of a new moon.
Buchanan said she picked out a star to remind her of her late mother, and she would speak to it at night. On the night of January 21, she had no idea that her prayers to her mother would come true.
60 Minutes: Jessica Buchanan Rescue
Buchanan said she thought the eruption of gunfire was going to be the end of her life yet again, and that a rival gang of bandits were there to take over her captivity. She was not aware that the hands grabbing her were American rescuers. She resisted at first.
The American accents and voices who called her name shook and jarred her. It took her a moment to understand what was happening all around her. She could not believe that they had come to rescue her.
They had even brought medicine, food, and water to help get her some immediate intervention as she was transported back to the safety of home. During a tense moment, the Navy SEALs who rescued her had to create a circle and lie on top of her to protect her.
60 Minutes: Impossible Odds Review
“They’re so kind, and they’re so gentle,” she recalled. Finally, the helicopters came and she took off running toward her salvation. “I don’t start breathing until we actually lift up off the ground.”
Upon being handed an American flag, she said she started to cry. But Jessica never got to see the faces or names of her rescuers.
That was in 2012, just before that year’s State of the Union Address. Buchanan was reunited with her husband in Italy, and she was grateful to get a second chance in life. Back home in Oregon, she also got to see her family members once again. “We made it,” she said, in conclusion.
Her colleague, Poul Thisted, was also rescued by the SEALs. Buchanan told her own story in the book Impossible Odds, on sale in May 2013. Now, she and her husband are proud parents who have returned to America for a new chapter in their lives.