On October 25, 2011, 32-year-old American aid worker Jessica Buchanan and her colleague, 60-year-old Poul Hagen Thisted of Denmark, were kidnapped by Somali pirates. They were held captive for 93 days in the African desert — enduring deplorable conditions, including very little food, water and sleep, and living in constant fear that they’d be killed at any moment. News of the capture was kept quiet to protect the hostages, while the U.S. military planned a top-secret rescue mission. On January 25, 2012, in a stealthy nighttime operation, Jessica and Poul were rescued by members of Navy SEAL Team Six — the same unit that carried out the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. In a daytime exclusive, Jessica opens up to Dr. Phil about her horrific experience, which she details in her book, Impossible Odds: The Kidnapping of Jessica Buchanan and Her Dramatic Rescue by SEAL Team Six. Hear her account of the kidnapping. How did she get through her darkest hours? Plus, Jessica, now a new mom, confides that she still has nightmares and flashbacks of her ordeal. Can Dr. Phil help her move past the traumatic experience so she can focus on her family?

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The Kidnapping

Jessica details the moment she was taken. “He points the gun at my head, and he starts shouting, ‘Go! Go, go, go, go!’”

Jessica tells Dr. Phil that she knew she shouldn’t go on that trip — she even sent a text to her husband the night before, jokingly asking him to rescue her if she’s kidnapped.
“What’s going through your mind?” Dr. Phil asks.

“I think I’m in shock, and I’m wondering if I’m going to see my husband again. And if I do, will anything ever be the same?” she says.
Jessica says at the end of the drive, she was told to get out of the car. She says dozens of heavily-armed men got out of the caravan, and she was told to walk into the desert. She initially refused, until her colleague, Poul, took her hand and urged her to walk with him. She says, through tears, “All I can picture is these men … they’re going to rape me and then kill me out in the middle of desert, all alone.”

“Did they rape you?” Dr. Phil asks.
“No,” she says.

Jessica explains that they walked into the darkness and eventually were commanded to get on their knees. As she waited to be killed, someone yelled the word for sleep. She says she collapsed and amazingly, she slept.

Must See Video: Jessica describes the captor she feared the most — a child soldier.

Jessica says they changed their location constantly. During the day, they would stay under the cover of trees. During nighttime, they were out in the open. When she learned they were being held for ransom, Jessica initially felt relief — they weren’t just going to kill them — but then she says she learned they were asking for $45 million. “They didn’t have any concept of what $45 million meant. So, trying to rationalize with people who can’t even write 1,000 in the sand, it was the most impossible situation. You can’t reason with a lunatic,” she says.

Jessica says when negotiations for the money weren’t going well, she and Poul would be punished. They’d take things away or hit them. All they could do was sit on a mat and wait. She says they were not allowed to show any emotion. If she cried, they got aggressive, screaming in her face to be silent. “I had to sit there, day after day, not expressing anything — not sadness, not anger and not fear,” she says. 

Find out why Jessica says she was always ill. And, see a video that was recorded of her during her captivity.

Jessica says she was forced to say she was being treated well in the "proof of life" video, and to urge the military not to attack. She says they wanted her to tell her family to get involved in finding her ransom money, because the authorities weren’t taking it seriously.

As time went on, Jessica says there were a few men who were aggressive toward her, and she began to feel that being sexually assaulted was inevitable. She says the man who acted as the translator would grope her in the night, corner her and kiss her.

Jessica says she got an opportunity to have a phone conversation with her husband, Erik, to make sure a specific person was working as the communicator for both families. Knowing she only had a short period of time to talk, she says she was very straight forward and unemotional. “If it was the last time he heard my voice, I wanted him to remember me as being strong. There was nothing he could do,” she says. Erik confirmed the information her captors wanted, and he told Jessica that he and her family were doing everything they could to get her out.

“As it turns out, there was a lot he could do,” Dr. Phil says. “And he did a lot. That night came when things changed dramatically. Help arrived.”

The Rescue

The moment she dreamed of arrives. “All of a sudden, the entire night erupts in gunfire.”

Jessica's husband, Erik, tells Dr. Phil that his whole life became consumed with trying to help Jessica. He says he wanted to go in and get her himself, but the FBI told him they were working on it. Erik says he felt terribly guilty about not being able to rescue his wife. Jessica says she knew there was nothing he could do, and if he had tried, it may have gotten them both killed. 

Coping in the Real World

Jessica made a surprising discovery soon after being released. And, she explains how she still has nightmares about her ordeal and problems with anger.

“I believe that you need to be rescued twice. You were rescued from that hell. Now you need to be rescued from this one.”

Dr. Phil offers Jessica professional help to heal from her trauma. “What I want is for you to have a genuine sense of freedom, a genuine sense of peace, and give yourself permission to be a source of joy in your home, for your husband, for yourself and for your child.”
He tells Jessica that Erik was an important change agent in her kidnapping, and if not for him, she’d still be in the desert, above or below ground.

“I know,” she says tearfully.

Jessica’s book, Impossible Odds: The Kidnapping of Jessica Buchanan and Her Dramatic Rescue by SEAL Team Six, is available in stores.

Extra Content

  • Impossible Odds: The Kidnapping of Jessica Buchanan and Her Dramatic Rescue by SEAL Team Six

    Jessica Buchanan and Erik Landemalm
    with Anthony Flacco