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Body of Waukesha teacher found after plane crashed in Panama

Deb Velleman
Posted at 11:00 AM, Feb 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-01 13:38:51-05

WAUKESHA — The bodies of a Waukesha woman and an Illinois woman who went missing after their small plane crashed off the Panama coast almost a month ago have been recovered, according to officials and a family spokesperson.

The Panama Civil Aviation Authority tweeted Tuesday that they recovered the bodies of two people who went missing in the accident after almost 700 hours of searching. They did not identify the deceased people.

A spokesperson for the families confirmed that Panamanian authorities have recovered the remains of Debra Sue Velleman, 70, of Waukesha, and Sue Borries, 57, of Teutopolis, Illinois. They were both retired schoolteachers.

The families issued the following statement:

"Our families welcome, with a tremendous sense of relief and gratitude, the news out of Panama this morning that our loved ones – Sue Borries and Deb Velleman – have been recovered.

While there are many individuals and entities to thank, we want to first and foremost thank Keith Cormican and his nonprofit organization Bruce’s Legacy, for the expertise, equipment, and tireless effort in successfully searching for the missing aircraft and completing this morning’s recovery in coordination with and under the supervision of local authorities in Panama. Our sincere thanks also go to Walter and Bernice Abadi and family, without whose support these results would not be possible.

It is our intention – almost exactly one month following this tragic accident – to give proper thanks to all those who supported our families during this difficult time, as well as to have many outstanding questions answered by way of a swift and thorough investigation. For now, however, this finally marks the beginning of our grieving process and provides us with a path to closure. Funeral services will be announced at a later date.May the memories of Sue and Deb be for a blessing."

In total, four American passengers were on the plane that crashed on Jan 3. Two of them and the pilot were found by Panamanian rescue teams. Velleman and Borries remained missing.

Debra and her husband, Anthony, split time in Panama and Waukesha. They decided to spend the New Year on Contadora Island. The couple was headed back to mainland Panama when the plane crashed into the ocean.

After the crash, Anthony clung to a styrofoam cooler to use as a floatation device, and was rescued hours after the crash. He is hospitalized and had his second surgery.

Josh Velleman, Debra and Anthony's son, was in Panama with his brother, Jake. Josh said his family is hoping for closure.

"We're distraught. The whole family is distraught," Josh said. "It's extremely painful. And it's frustrating because we have all the help locally here, but there's language barriers and, you know, it's obviously a difficult time."

The families of Velleman and Borries have urged the U.S. government for help in the search. Josh Velleman said the U.S. embassy told his family that they would not be assisting. The families were waiting in Panama for the return of their loved ones.

Panamanian rescue teams conducted air, sea, and land searches of the aircraft's last known coordinates.

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