Remains of Two Women Recovered a Month After Plane Crash

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A month ago, on January 3rd, two American women went missing after their small plane crashed off the coast of Panama. Now, after more than 690 hours of searching, their remains have been located.

Friends Debra Ann Velleman, 70, of Waukesha, Wisconsin, and Sue Borries, 57, of Teutopolis, Illinois, were retired public school teachers who were living in Chame, Panama. They were heading home from a New Year’s weekend visit to a bed and breakfast on Isla Contadora when the small plane they were passengers in suffered an engine failure and crashed.

On Tuesday morning, the two women’s bodies were finally recovered from inside the place, according to Albert Lewitinn, a representative for the Velleman family.

The plane had been piloted by the owner of the bed and breakfast at which the pair stayed. 

Debra’s husband Anthony Velleman, another passenger, and the pilot were able to be rescued by Panamanian search and rescue teams. Amid the weeks-long search for Debra and Sue, their families pleaded with the U.S. government for help, which they say never came. 

According to ABC News, Panama’s government requested divers and sonar to aid in the search, but the Velleman and Borrises families say that the request was denied due to a lack of assets and jurisdiction. 

Later, the families enlisted the help of the Wisconsin-based volunteer search and recovery organization Bruce’s Legacy and local families with boats, which Lewitinn says helped locate the plane. 

Now, the victims’ families are working to bring Debra and Sue’s remains back to the United States. 

“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,” the families said in a joint statement.

“For now, however, this finally marks the beginning of our grieving process and provides us with a path to closure.”

For more information and how you can assist the families, visit

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