'The Stuff of Movies': How Fox News Rushed to Help Its Journalists After They Came Under Fire in Invasion

In the hours after correspondent Benjamin Hall was injured last month while reporting from Ukraine, his colleagues worked with the Pentagon and a team of specialists to reach him

Benjamin Hall
Benjamin Hall. Photo: Fox News

On March 14, the world learned that Fox News correspondent Benjamin Hall had just been seriously injured in an attack that left two other journalists dead, all while they were covering Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Days later, the network announced that Hall was back in the U.S. and on the road to recovery — and they mourned Hall's colleagues who had not survived.

"Please continue to keep [Hall] in your prayers," Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott told employees at the time.

What the network didn't announce then was that Hall's journey to get crucial treatment came thanks to coordination with the Pentagon and a group of seasoned extraction experts.

Speaking with PEOPLE, Fox News' own Jennifer Griffin — who helped kick-start the operation — and others involved are now sharing new details of the less-than-24 hour effort to get Hall to safety.

It was around noon on Monday, March 14, when a French reporter began tearing down the halls of the Pentagon with grave news to share. The other journalist stopped outside the Fox News press booth where Griffin, the network's longtime national security correspondent, was inside working.

Their question for her was short but startling.

"They said, 'Has your team been hurt?' " Griffin recalled in a recent interview. "And at that moment, I didn't know."

Russian invasion of Ukraine
A destroyed building following Russian missile strikes in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 2. Erin Trieb/Bloomberg via Getty

Griffin told PEOPLE she phoned network executive Jay Wallace and quickly learned what the other reporter meant: Her colleague Benjamin Hall has been hurt while covering the invasion.

Wallace himself didn't yet know the full extent of the situation, Griffin says, but Wallace was aware that Hall and others were traveling as part of a group that had come under fire.

Griffin remembers that Wallace asked her, "You know who was with them?"

"And that's when I realized that [veteran cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski] was with him," she says. "And then [Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra 'Sasha' Kuvshynova] also was missing."

As Griffin — and everyone else — would soon discover, the three journalists had been newsgathering when their vehicle was struck outside of Kyiv, Ukraine's capital. Griffin, half a world away, wanted to do something, anything.

"So at that point, I said to Jay, 'Do you want me to help?' " she remembers. "And he said, 'Yes.' "

Once off the phone, Griffin says, she turned to Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby, who happened to be standing just outside the Fox News booth.

While Kirby explained to her that the U.S. couldn't assist in any sort of military effort inside of Ukraine (due to a presidential order that bans troops from crossing into the country), Griffin had another idea.

She proposed to Kirby that "if I can get Benjamin to the border, can you have a team from Landstuhl help him?" (Landstuhl refers to a major military hospital in a town of the same name in Germany.)

Jennifer Griffin
Jennifer Griffin. Fox News

Already Griffin's mind was spinning with solutions. She recalled that Save Our Allies, a group dedicated to rescuing Americans and allies in war-torn environments, had set up a base in the region and was carrying out extractions from Ukraine.

She called the group's founder, Sarah Verardo, to explain her situation.

"Sarah, do you have any teams who can help? We have an injured man. My colleague is injured and is in Ukraine," Griffin told Verardo, tearing up with PEOPLE as she describes the conversation. "And she said, 'I have the best teams.' "

The plan to get to Hall and the Fox News staff — and get Hall into a hospital in Germany — had been set into motion. But first they would have to determine where, exactly, everyone was.

Griffin tells PEOPLE they knew Hall was in one of three hospitals around Kyiv, so she "put on [her] reporter hat" and worked with security teams in the area to determine that Hall was at a border guard facility there.

"We still did not know where Pierre and Sasha were at that point," Griffin says. "They were still missing. So we thought: Where do we go from here?"

Griffin soon learned that a veteran extraction specialist from the special operations community (working undercover, with the call-sign Seaspray) and a well-known combat surgeon and retired Navy officer, Dr. Rich Jadick, were both working with Save Our Allies. The two men were headed to find Hall and assess his injuries to assess whether — and how — he could be retrieved.

"It was a very dramatic next few hours," Griffin says, with the team determining that Hall had been taken to three hospitals within Ukraine since he had been injured. The whereabouts of Kuvshynova and Zakrzewski, who had been embedded with Hall and a group of Ukrainian soldiers, at that point remained unknown.

In an attempt to find Hall and his colleagues, Griffin spoke to another journalist in Ukraine, who was working with The New York Times and had traveled with the same unit as the Fox News team just one day prior to the attack.

That journalist had taken detailed notes, which Griffin passed along to Seaspray in an attempt to reconstruct the path. Eventually, they traced it.

Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova
Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova. Fox News
Benjamin Hall
Benjamin Hall. Benjamin Hall/Twitter

Speaking to reporters on the ground, Griffin says, she learned that Hall had been initially sent by ambulance to a first-aid station in an area that was Russian-controlled. From there, he was transferred to one hospital and then to another, this one for state border guards.

Speaking with PEOPLE, Seaspray declined to give details of how the team determined Hall's whereabouts, only saying that he was told he would be overseeing the rescue of a "high-value person" from a hospital in Ukraine.

"When this all happened, we got information that a U.S. citizen was hurt and we needed to get him out. First we had to find him," Seaspray says, adding, "People wanted to get help for him, to get him out. He needed to be evacuated."

Dr. Jadick described a similar situation to Fox News in an interview that aired in March.

He said he was already in Poland with Save Our Allies when he got the call to move to Kyiv. "We had to evacuate a critically wounded patient," he said. "So, it wasn't immediate from here to there to get him. It was I was there at the right place, with the right people, at the right time."

Seaspray and Jadick knew Hall was in the Ukrainian hospital — and that the building was the target of the Russian military. Hall needed to get out as soon and as safely as possible.

Speaking to Fox News host Martha MacCallum last month, Jadick described how he had been teaching a course in Tennessee when he first got the call from Save Our Allies to head overseas to assist in humanitarian efforts in Poland. While there, he got another request: to go into Ukraine and get Hall out, so Hall could get the appropriate medical attention.

Jadick recounted the moment he arrived at the hospital and made his way into the room to meet Hall face-to-face.

"We went upstairs," Jadick said. "And I saw Ben. And I looked at — I look at him. I said, 'Ben, you don't know me. I'm Rich Jadick. I'm a physician. I'm here to get you out.' And he said, 'When do you want to go?' "

Next, an executive decision needed to be made: Could Hall be extracted from Ukraine without jeopardizing his health?

Jennifer Griffin
Jennifer Griffin. Paul Morigi/Getty
Mariupol, Ukraine - 09 Mar 2022
Dead bodies are put into a mass grave on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine, as people cannot bury their dead because of the heavy shelling by Russian forces amid the invasion. Evgeniy Maloletka/AP/Shutterstock

Back home in the U.S., Griffin attempted to get an answer. Using the secure messaging app Signal on her phone in one hand and holding her husband's phone aloft in the other, she connected Hall's Ukrainian surgeon and the Save Our Allies team with her network's own executives.

"I asked Fox, 'What do you want to do?' And they're like, 'Go.' "

That decision kicked off a 12-hour journey to get Hall to the Polish border, which required transferring him to an ambulance and keeping him stabilized while traveling down pockmarked roads destroyed by Russian tanks in a country under attack.

As Jadick described to Fox News in his earlier interview: "One of the hallmarks of evacuating a patient is patients get worse under rough conditions getting out of a bad situation. And the bad situation was or could have been made worse just by getting in the wrong kind of evacuation situation."

The medical concerns were top-priority, but safety was admittedly just as essential.

Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer, a retired Marine who served on the backup team to extract Hall, explains to PEOPLE that he got involved after he was contacted by Save Our Allies.

Dakota Meyer
Dakota Meyer is presented with the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama during an East Room ceremony on Sept. 15, 2011, at the White House. Alex Wong/Getty

"They're like, 'Hey, we're going over, we'd love to have you join us.' And, you know, I'd been watching this on TV," Meyer says. "It's been 12 years since I've been involved in anything like this, and just watching this go down was shocking."

While he wasn't part of the team that ultimately extracted Hall, Meyer — who was previously married to Sarah Palin's daughter, Bristol — spent time in Ukraine helping the team best determine how to assist citizens in need of help.

"[Russians] are indiscriminately dropping bombs," Meyer tells PEOPLE. "In the city that I was in, the air raid sirens were going off all through the night, and all through the day ... There's one thing you can guarantee: No one is safe."

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free weekly newsletter to get the biggest news of the week delivered to your inbox every Friday.

Griffin concurs, calling Hall's journey from war-torn Ukraine to a world-class military hospital "the stuff of movies."

While the Save Our Allies operatives drove Hall through the treacherous terrain, Griffin continued working the phones, messaging the Pentagon to alert them that Hall was heading to the border.

Very soon, she heard back from Defense Secretary's Lloyd Austin office, who called while he was flying over the Atlantic Ocean to NATO headquarters: Officials told Griffin an Army unit was in Poland and prepared to send a C-130 airlift with medical teams to get Hall from the border and to the hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.

As a senior defense official explains to PEOPLE, "To extract Hall from the combat zone and arrange for his care at the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, the civilian rescue team worked with senior leaders at the Pentagon and at U.S. European Command in Germany. This was done at the direction of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin."

C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft
A U.S. C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty
Sarah Verardo
Sarah Verardo (right). courtesy Sarah Verardo

"The plane was waiting at a Polish airport military base and it all went with not a minute to spare," Griffin says. "It was like clockwork once you cross the border ... I was sent a video through Signal of Benji getting on the helicopter being taken to the next leg where the Landstuhl team, the extraordinary military team, was waiting for him, and they took him."

Verardo, the founder of Save Our Allies, tells PEOPLE in a statement that the group "relied on precision extraction experience to evacuate Ben, and stabilize him through field medicine. Ben's rescue was a multinational operation that relied on longtime friends and partners within the Ukrainian, Polish, and United States special operations community. Once stabilized in Poland, Ben was handed off to the United States military for onward treatment in Germany."

Some parts of the operation have not been publicly detailed, and Fox News and others involved remain sensitive about sharing too much of Hall's injuries and current condition as well as the nature of the attack he and his team suffered.

On March 15, Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott told staffers that Zakrzewski and Kuvshynova had died after coming under fire with Hall.

"It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that we share the news this morning regarding our beloved cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski. Pierre was killed in Honrenka, outside of Kyiv, Ukraine," Scott wrote in a statement.

Kuvshynova had been serving as a consultant for the network, Scott said then, "helping our crews navigate Kyiv [Ukraine's capital] and the surrounding area while gathering information and speaking to sources."

"She was incredibly talented and spent weeks working directly with our entire team there, operating around the clock to make sure the world knew what was happening in her country," Scott said.

Pierre Zakrzewski
Pierre Zakrzewski (left) in Ukraine. Fox News

RELATED VIDEO: As Russia's Invasion of Ukraine Continues, Citizens Around the World Still Manage to Uplift Each Other

On March 16, two days after Griffin learned that Hall had been injured, Scott announced that he had been evacuated and subsequently hospitalized, saying a statement sent to staff: "Ben is alert and in good spirits. He is being treated with the best possible care in the world and we are in close contact with his wife and family."

Save Our Allies — which has been on the ground in Ukraine since Feb. 10 to assist with humanitarian aid and medical and evacuation support — provided the dignified transfer of Zakrzewski to his family.

Speaking to The Irish Examiner last month, Zakrzewski's mom said that she was "always worried" about his job as a photojournalist but that it was "really his life."

At his funeral held in Ireland last week, Zakrzewski's childhood friend Ronan Hingerty also spoke about his passion for journalism, saying in a eulogy, "Truth telling is a work of love. Love always comes at a price. And what a terrible price."

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

Related Articles