Panama plane crash: Bodies of Wisconsin, Illinois women recovered

A Waukesha family now has a chance to grieve after the recovery of two women who were passengers in a small aircraft that crashed off the coast of Panama.

On Tuesday, Feb. 1, authorities in Panama announced they recovered the bodies from the wreckage. A news release in Spanish says 690 hours were logged in the search effort. 

The women are identified by their families as 70-year-old Debra Velleman of Waukesha – and 57-year-old Sue Borries of Illinois.

Debra Velleman

Sue Borries

A website dedicated to the search said on Jan. 3, both women were passengers on a plane that crashed off the coast of Panama. Officials there released video of ongoing rescue efforts.

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Both families made pleas for the U.S. government to get involved in the search. Their efforts gained the support of local lawmakers like Congressman Bryan Steil and Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Officials in Baldwin's office told FOX6 News they contacted the embassy, the State Department, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Department of Defense on the issue.

In a statement released by both families, they thanked the Wisconsin nonprofit organization Bruce's Legacy for helping in the search efforts under the supervision of local authorities. They say there are many more people to thank in the coming days. 

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The families declined interviews while describing a "tremendous sense of relief and gratitude." They do say they intend to "have many outstanding questions answered by way of a swift and thorough investigation." But for now, "this finally marks the beginning of our grieving process and provides us with a path to closure."

Funeral services are expected to be announced at a later date.


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