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Foreign Exchange Trip Leader Remembers Fatal Duck Boat Crash

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Jackie Kennedy

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – July 7 is a day Jackie Kennedy will never forget. It changed her life, probably forever.

“You’re hoping that you can begin to function like you used to, but I just, it just goes through my head,” she told Eyewitness News in an exclusive interview.

Jackie was onboard the duck boat last July 7 that was run over by a barge on the Delaware River off Penn’s Landing. All 37 people on the duck went into the water. Two of them, Szabolcs Prem, 20, and Dora Schwendter, 16 – both Hungarian students – did not come back out. Their bodies were later recovered. (see related stories)

Jackie, the youth director at Marshallton United Methodist Church in Chester County, led the foreign exchange trip that brought Prem and Schwendter to the Philadelphia area along with 13 other Hungarians. Philadelphia was their first stop for sight seeing.

“It’s been hard. It’s been nightmares, reliving it, panic attacks, depression, isolation, being dissociated, like you’re outside your body,” she says. “It’s still so hard to get my arms around the whole thing.”

It did not take long last summer for Jackie to realize she was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. To this day, she says she has not gone on a boat or even taken a swim.

Yet her eyes still light up when she talks about her work with teenagers, especially her foreign exchange experiences. The visit last summer by the Hungarians was the third exchange she coordinated. Half of the students stayed at her home, including Prem.

“I made them Mexican the first night,” she says. They had never had it, and “they gobbled it up!”

Over the past year, Jackie has looked for healing at home, at church and even with a trip to Hungary. She took along her daughter Laura, who was also onboard the duck boat.

“We experienced such a bond with those kids and those teachers. I really wanted to see them. I really wanted to meet up with them again and just hug them,” she says.

Watch the video…

She still struggles to answer the question, “Why?” She does not like talking about the accident itself or its cause. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded the pilot of the tug boat pushing the barge was distracted and using his cell phone at the time of the crash.

Jackie says her faith is pulling her through. She believes God was with them on the Duck Boat that afternoon.

“You know God doesn’t cause these things to happen, people do,” she says. “The fact is that it happened. And I’m still sorting it out for myself.”

Right now, Marshallton United Methodist has no new foreign exchange visits planned – but Jackie says that will eventually change. In fact, the church would like the Hungarians to come back and finish the trip.

“We’re like a family now,” Jackie says.

A family she believes will stay connected forever.

Reported by Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3

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