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Waukesha woman missing after plane crashes near Panama

Deb Velleman
Posted at 12:37 PM, Jan 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-10 19:44:50-05

WAUKESHA — A Waukesha woman is one of two Americans still missing after a plane crashed off the coast of Panama on Jan 3.

In total, four American passengers were on the plane. Two of them and the pilot have been found by Panamanian rescue teams; however, Debra Velleman, 70, from Waukesha, and Sue Borries, 57, from Illinois are still missing. Both of them are retired teachers.

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 on Monday.

Josh Velleman, Debra and Anthony's son, is in Panama now 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 Monday afternoon that they would not be assisting. The families are waiting in Panama for the return of their loved ones.

Panamanian rescue teams have conducted air, sea, and land searches of the aircraft's last known coordinates, but that hasn't proved successful yet.

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