Trapped New Jersey Teen Trying to Flee Chile

Livingston teen started five-month exchange program Friday

By Lynda Baquero
|  Monday, Mar 1, 2010  |  Updated 8:14 PM EDT
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Trapped In Chile

Zack Kessler

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Trapped In Chile

Parents of a New Jersey teen anxiously await word from their son in Chile. Then, the call they hoped for all weekend came. See what happens...
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It is the first time 16-year-old Zack Kessler had ever traveled abroad alone.

The Livingston N.J. sophomore arrived in Chile on Friday to begin a five-month stay as a foreign exchange student in the town of Los Angeles, Chile which is about fifty miles from Concepcion.

Hours after he arrived, the ground shook from a massive 8.8 earthquake.

His parents, Marci and David Kessler spoke to their son via Skype Friday night. But at 7 a.m. Saturday, a relative called with the news that Chile suffered the devastating earthquake.

That's when the frantic effort began to find out if their son was alive and okay. They put his name on Google's People Finder and reached out on Facebook.

Through Facebook, they heard from the Chilean foreign exchange student whom they had hosted for a year. David Kessler says that student -- who lives in Southern Chile -- "put out a broadcast on Facebook about Zack".

Finally, they got word that the family Zack was staying with was okay.

But it wasn't until 11 a.m. Monday morning that the Kesslers heard from Zack. He made his way from the farm where he was staying, to the city of Los Angeles where he finally got cell service.

"He sounded happy, good. He even started laughing. But then the shock finally hit him," said his mom Marci Kessler.

Since that initial call, Zack has phoned home three more times, worried about how he can try to leave the country. Less than 72 hours after arriving in Chile for a five-month stay, Zack, understandably wants to come home.

By phone, he said the farmhouse where he's staying isn't damaged. But as he drove around the area with his host family, he started to see some destruction. A bridge he needed to cross to get to the city -- where there is some cell service -- was missing a chunk of concrete.

Nevertheless, they drove across to the city -- and to Zack's communication connection to his family. 

Another challenge Zack is facing is that he doesn't speak Spanish.

Now the Kesslers are struggling to figure out how to get their eldest son home to New Jersey, where's he's a sophomore at Livingston High School.

They've reached out to the offices of Sen. Robert Menendez and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Kesslers tell us they've "been very responsive".

As Zack traveled back to his host family's farm-- away from lines of communication-- he said he "can't wait to get back to my family, back to safety".

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