Alexandria Woman Kidnapped by Somali Pirates Recalls Experience

By Aaron Gilchrist
|  Friday, Jul 12, 2013  |  Updated 5:03 PM EDT
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An Alexandria woman went through a terrifying ordeal in Somalia -- and it changed her. Jessica Buchanan went to Africa to do humanitarian work and ended up a hostage. She now lives a peaceful life with her husband and young son in the D.C. area. News4’s Aaron Gilchrist has part two of his report.

Aaron Gilchrist

An Alexandria woman went through a terrifying ordeal in Somalia -- and it changed her. Jessica Buchanan went to Africa to do humanitarian work and ended up a hostage. She now lives a peaceful life with her husband and young son in the D.C. area. News4’s Aaron Gilchrist has part two of his report.

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Va. Woman Recalls Harrowing Kidnapping

News4's Aaron Gilchrist exclusively spoke with Jessica Buchanan, an Alexandria woman who was kidnapped and held captive for three months by Somali pirates.

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For 93 days in Somalia, Jessica Buchanan lived in squalor and fear, not knowing whether she would make it back to the United States alive.

In 2011, Buchanan, then 32, worked for the Danish Demining Group, teaching armed violence reduction. One October day, Buchanan's car was stopped by armed Somali pirates.

"The next thing we know, we're completely cut off on one side," Buchanan recalled. "Our windows and windshields are completely splashed and covered with mud. There's a Somali man, he's got an AK to my head and he's screaming at the driver to 'Go!' and we just take off into the desert."

Buchanan and a co-worker were held captive by the pirates for more than 90 days, shuttled to the desert and held for a $45 million ransom.

"They just moved us from one location to the next and it was just out in the middle of nowhere," Buchanan said. "Sometimes we would drive for hours in the middle of the night and just be dumped."

She said at one point, she was pulled into a brush by one of her captors, who told her he would cut off her head if he didn't get $18 million in seven days.

"[I had] no reason [not to believe him]," Buchanan said.

She wasn't sure she'd survive, but one night in January 2012, she felt a sudden commotion among her captors.

"I pulled the blanket off my face and I saw him, just this look of terror on his face, and he's got his AK and... all of a sudden, the entire night just erupts into gunfire."

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"All I could say was, 'You're American?' I can't fathom there are Americans out here with me. I'm not alone! Finally, for the first time in 93 days, there's help."

She lay under the protective bodies of two of her rescuers as the assault turned violent -- all nine of her captors were killed. She clawed her way into a military chopper and was whisked away to nearby Djibouti.

"I didn't start breathing until we were several hundred feet up into the air and I realized that I was alive and I survived," she said. "The nightmare is over."

Buchanan and her husband, Erik, have remained in Africa since the incident. Late last year, she gave birth to their son, August.

"I'm fortunate to have a wife like Jess to start with, and that we have August with us now," Erik Buchanan said. "Also knowing where we have been makes me appreciate where we are and where we're heading."

"I am here and I am alive and I am free," Jessica Buchanan said.

Her book, "Impossible Odds," debuted in May and documents her harrowing experience.

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