The Rescue of Jessica Buchanan

An American aid worker's first interview about being kidnapped and held for ransom by Somali pirates in a 93-day ordeal

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The following script is from "The Rescue of Jessica Buchanan" which aired on May 12, 2013. Scott Pelley is the correspondent. Robert Anderson is the producer.

Tonight, for the first time, we have the story of the rescue of Jessica Buchanan. It is the tale of a secret mission by SEAL Team Six that few people have heard about until now. On a January night in 2012, members of SEAL Team Six jumped from a plane into the skies of Somalia. Jessica Buchanan was being held hostage and the SEALs were descending just in time. Buchanan was a humanitarian aid worker who had come to help children in one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Hers was an ordeal that ended in a flash of violence. but had begun 93 days earlier when her car was stopped by bandits in a place she calls hell.

Jessica Buchanan: We stopped, very abruptly like so abruptly that I felt like everybody just fall forward and then I started to hear all of this pounding on the windows and the windshield and shouting in Somali and there is a man standing there screaming with an AK-47 and he's shouting and pointing it at us and then he climbs into the car next to me and points an AK into my face and they're hyped up like they're on speed and all of the sudden we just take off. The driver just takes off and we just start slamming down these camel tracks.

Scott Pelley: What did you think they were going to do?

Jessica Buchanan: I figured they were going to rape me. And then kill me. And I just keep thinking, "This can't be the end. This can't be the end of my life. I'm only 32 years old. I haven't had any children yet." I didn't get to say goodbye to Erik. I didn't get to say goodbye to my dad. Like, this can't be the end.

Jessica Buchanan was facing the end at the end of the Earth. Somalia, on the farthest tip of Africa, is war torn and lawless.

[Scott Pelley: This is essentially No Man's Land.]

Militias battle over an unforgiving land as we saw while covering a famine there in 2011. It was the same year that Buchanan was with a Danish charity teaching children how to avoid landmines. On October 25th, her car was hijacked.

Jessica Buchanan: The driver is driving just like a madman, we are bouncing all over the place, my head keeps hitting the window, it keeps hitting the roof I'm holding on to the side, the handle on the Land Cruiser just trying to keep myself steady.

Scott Pelley: What happened next?

Jessica Buchanan: It gets dark and we've changed vehicles a couple of times more people have come. They're screaming. And I hear from behind me a higher pitched voice going on and on in Somali. And I think, "My god, they have a woman involved in this." And I turn around, and I see a small child in the back of the land cruiser with an AK-47 draped in ammunition. And I think the irony of why I came to Africa in the first place.

Scott Pelley: Exactly the kid you were trying to save?

Jessica Buchanan: Yeah.

Scott Pelley: A child soldier?

Jessica Buchanan: Yeah.

Scott Pelley: What was he doing?

Jessica Buchanan: Learning the trade.

She'd been kidnapped along with a coworker, Poul Thisted. They drove into the night and then were ordered to march into the desert.

Jessica Buchanan: And they tell us to get down on to our knees and I think this is it and I'm bracing myself to be shot in the back of the head. And I think that there's mercy in the fact that maybe they're not going to rape me first, but that it's just going to be quick. And I'm waiting and I'm waiting, and then all of a sudden, somebody shouts from behind us, "Sleep." And I'm thinking, "Oh my god, I didn't hear that correctly, did I? He just said, 'Sleep'?"

She collapsed, slept through the night and the next morning was met by the man who led the bandits.