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While working as a humanitarian worker in war-ravaged Somalia, Jessica Buchanan knew she lived with danger. Even so, she never thought she was at risk for abduction.
But on Oct. 25, 2011, that’s what happened.
She was “completely surrounded” the moment she was seized by Somali pirates, she recalled Monday on TODAY. “Yelling, screaming, hitting windshields with AK-47s. Guns in my face, and then we just take off driving through the desert into God only knows where.”
Buchanan spent the next 93 days in conditions so unsanitary they ended up threatening her health. The former grade-school teacher wrote about her experience in “Impossible Odds,” a book she co-authored with her husband, Erik Landemalm.
Buchanan thought she would die every single day she was held, she told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie.
“They were long and scary, sometimes incredibly boring,” she said about those days. “I worried that I was actually, maybe not going to necessarily lose my life, but lose my mind.”
Her abductors barely gave her any food – bread, some tuna fish, a bit of water.
“They never treated us humanely,” she said. “A lot of times I just felt like an animal put on display.”
Buchanan named her book “Impossible Odds” because of the outrageous ransom demanded by her captives. “It was a great title because it felt like the most impossible situation ever: $45 million. Where do you come up with something like that?” she said.
Meanwhile, Buchanan’s husband said he felt completely helpless, with very little information to go on.
“It was the worst kind of feeling that I have ever experienced,” he told Guthrie. “I just wanted to go in after her, but at the same time, I had to trust that the right people would do the right thing to get her back.”
The appropriate team did just that. President Obama had ordered the U.S. military to launch a secret rescue operation headed by SEAL Team 6, the same special forces group that took out Osama bin Laden. The team rescued Buchanan along with a Danish aid worker, while killing all nine of their kidnappers.
Buchanan said the rescue mission came as a total surprise. “Just complete shock and awe that these men risked their lives to come in and to save mine and give me a second chance,” she said. “They said my name, and they said, ‘We’re here to take you home.'”
But Buchanan has never had a chance to thank her rescuers since that night.
“They’re just like that,” she said. “They come in, they do their job and then they fade into the distance. Just incredible, incredible period.”