On a dark January night in 2012, members of SEAL Team Six were given the go-ahead from President Obama to jump into Somalian skies and rescue Jessica Buchanan — a humanitarian aid worker who'd spent the previous 93 days in the hands of Somali pirates. A miraculous tale of survival and willpower, it's her journey against #ImpossibleOdds that Clint Eastwood will pay tribute to in his next cinematic venture.
Tackling real-life survivors is becoming somewhat of a template for Eastwood's movies of late; two years on from American Sniper and with Sully's "Miracle on the Hudson" starring Tom Hanks still in theaters, Impossible Odds will adapt Buchanan's memoir for the big screen.
Secured by Warner Bros. and scripted by Brian Helgeland — who worked with Eastwood in 2003's Oscar-winner Mystic River and 2002's Blood Work — though Impossible Odds is certainly still in the early stages, the gruesome depth of Buchanan's tale is enough to get us in gear for one hell of a movie.
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The True Story Of Jessica Buchanan
Back in 2006, a 27-year-old Jessica Buchanan had landed in Nairobi, Africa with a teaching degree and dreams of educating African children, of helping them before they become enveloped by war-torn lands. Fast forward three years and after marrying a native Swede, Erik Landemalm, the pair relocated to Somalia and began working together in cooperation with local humanitarian aid authorities. However, two years later, their efforts took a terrifying turn.
In October 2011, Buchanan and her colleague travelled to the dangerous southern region for training and found themselves captured by land pirates, sold out by their escort and protector, all of whom demanded a $45 million ransom fee. For the next 93 days the pair were forced to sleep on mats in the open desert while her husband and various agencies worked relentlessly for their rescue.
Talking to Scott Pelley of CBS News back in 2013, Buchanan recounted the ordeal:
"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. 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."
Asked what she thought they were going to do, she replied:
"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.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."
And then the tragic irony of the situation hit her:
"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.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'?"'
The rollercoaster of emotions one must cope with in such a situation is, quite frankly, unimaginable. Can you even comprehend the feeling of being lined up in a firing line, and then told to sleep? Would you even be able to sleep? Watch Buchanan recount the moment in the CBS clip below:
In a separate two-part interview with David Greene, both Buchanan and her husband, Landemalm, talk of how they got through the agony that was the three months following her capture.
Firstly, here's how Landemalm found out about the kidnapping, how he told her father, and the steps he took along with the crisis management team to tackle the situation:
"I was just waiting to hear back from her that, you know, 'We have arrived.' Instead, I received a phone call from Kenya. It was Jess' organization's regional security adviser, Dan, and he told me that, yeah, something bad has happened. That Jess and Poul, they've been kidnapped and we don't know where they are. We don't know the reason for the kidnapping. Shortly after that I took the decision to call Jess' dad and tell him about it. And, of course, this was the worst phone call, up till then, at least, that I've ever had.A month into the kidnapping, the crisis management team had been set up. We had agreed that, as a family, we would not talk directly with the kidnappers or with Jess or Poul. But it happened that the kidnappers, that they demanded for me to let them know that the person that we had as our family communicator was actually the person that he said he was. I made the call, and there on the phone was, suddenly, Jess. And it was the strangest feeling that you can ever have to have the person that you love on the other side of the phone, but you have no idea if she has guns to her head. You have no idea if she will make it. You have no idea if we will ever meet each other again."
So how exactly did Buchanan and her colleague, Poul, make it through?
"The No. 1 rule that my colleague Poul and I made, at the beginning of this whole ordeal, was that we could feel any emotion: fear, anger, rage. But despair was not an option. Because we knew once we got to that point there was no turning back. We would tell ourselves and tell each other every day that we will get out of this. And so I think anybody who finds themselves in some sort of situation such as this, where complete control is taken away from you on the outside, you struggle to find some sort of control on the inside. Every morning became about establishing a routine, which was difficult because we moved around so much — as much as 40, maybe 50 times.A couple months in, once they realized, I think, that we weren't going to run away or try to escape, they gave us a little bit of freedom. So they would let me maybe go and boil some water to make some tea or, you know, help make bread in the morning. There were many weeks where we were separated, and I spent what I call my time in solitary confinement, where I had no interaction with anybody."
To add insult injury, Buchanan suffers from a thyroid condition and was developing a serious kidney infection while in captivity and, unsurprisingly, her captors provided no medication. This situation could've taken a life-threatening (more so than already) turn, had SEAL Team Six — the group famed for killing Osama Bin Laden — not arrived in time.
On their 93rd night, they were rescued. Within the same interview with Greene, she recounts the surreal moment:
"The entire night just erupted into automatic gunfire. My first initial thought is that we were being re-kidnapped by another group, or maybe it was al-Shabab [the Islamic military group in Somalia] — that was always the eminent threat, and then I knew there was no hope for survival if it was al-Shabab. And I just, I laid there and I prayed and I also just said, like, 'I can't survive another kidnapping. I've already learned this group. ... I'm so tired, I can't, I can't do this anymore.'The next thing I know, somebody pulls the blanket from my face and then I hear a man say my name. You know, I haven't heard anybody say my name in so long. And then he says, 'We're the American military, and we're here to save you, we're here to take you home. You're safe now.' And I ... was just in so much shock I just couldn't wrap my brain around it. The American military, they knew I was here? Americans are here? I'm not alone? One of them just scoops me up, I mean, like a movie, and just, you know, runs across the desert with me to a safe place, and they quickly give me medication and at one point form a ring around us because they weren't sure if the premises was completely safe."
Her phrase "like a movie" may have been the trigger for the adaptation, yet there's little denying this ordeal is one filled with drama, suspense, romance and — making it ripe for a Hollywood retelling — a happy ending.
Understandably, Buchanan and her husband have moved from Somalia back to the US, and they remain working with humanitarian development, stating:
"Absolutely. In our hearts we'll always be just aid workers, and so there's a lot of work to be done, no matter where we are."
Who could you imaging starring as Jessica Buchanan in Impossible Odds?
Before you leave, check out the trailer for Clint Eastwood's Sully, in theaters now: