Families seek US help in locating missing women after plane crash in Panama


CHICAGO (NewsNation now) – Two Midwestern families are making a moving plea to the US government to help them find two women who went missing after their plane crashed just off the coast of Panama.

Debra Velleman, of Waukesha, Wisconsin, and Sue Borries of Teutopolis, Illinois, were in a single-engine plane with three other people on January 3 when it crashed. The pilot, Debra’s husband and another passenger survived the crash, but Velleman and Borries are still missing.

Jake Velleman, Debra’s son, said he would not leave Panama until his mother was found.

“I have to have hope,” he said. “She lived every day to the fullest, and was just a wonderful mother and wonderful family member, and loved by many.”

Velleman and Borries are both retired teachers. They had celebrated the New Year on an island with a small group of friends before the accident.

Borries’ son Brandon, who is also in Panama, is still waiting for answers.

“We’re all sitting here wondering, you know, could we have a funeral someday? Is that possible?”

The families said they were grateful to the Panamanian rescue teams, who continued the search for Velleman and Borries. But Jake said they would also like help from the US government.

“There is no doubt in our minds that these resources exist in the United States and can be quickly deployed,” he said. “We can’t think of any reason why they wouldn’t be, why they weren’t at this point, 10 days later.”

Both Jake and Brandon said they have been in contact with their elected representatives, who say they are on the case, but other than initial technical assistance to Panamanias to locate the crash site, they have not had US government news.

“Our hope is that this isn’t some bureaucrat sitting around doing a cost-benefit analysis and saying two retired Midwestern public school teachers aren’t worth lifting a finger,” Jake said.

“We just need to get through this so we can grieve and grieve our mother like our family needs, we need this closure,” Brandon said.

So far, Velleman said the US Embassy has refused to send help in the search. NewsNation has also reached out to the State Department, Department of Defense and US Coast Guard for comment.


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