Families plead for US help to find missing women after Panama plane crash


CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Two Midwest families are making an emotional plea to the U.S. government for help in finding two missing women after their plane crashed just off the coast of Panama.

Debra Velleman, from Waukesha, Wisconsin, and Sue Borries from Teutopolis, Illinois, were in a single-engine plane with three other people on Jan. 3 when it went down. 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 isn’t leaving Panama until his mother is found. 

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

Velleman and Borries are both retired school teachers. They had been celebrating New Year’s Eve on an island with a small group of friends before the crash. 

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 ever? Is that even possible?” 

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

“There’s no question in any of 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 haven’t been at this point, 10 days later.” 

Both Jake and Brandon said they have been in touch with their elected representatives, who say they are on the case, but aside from the initial technical assistance to Panamanias to locate the crash site, they haven’t heard from the U.S. government. 

“Our hope is that this is not some bureaucrat sitting up in wherever, that has done a cost-benefit analysis and said two retired public school teachers from the Midwest aren’t worth lifting a finger for,” said Jake. 

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

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

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