FEB. 1, 2022

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 Deb and Sue be for a blessing.


JANUARY 29, 2022

Debra and Anthony Velleman and their dear friends were aboard a small plane that suffered an engine failure and crashed the afternoon of Monday, January 3rd in the waters off the coast of Panama.

Anthony and two others were rescued that same day, and Anthony underwent several surgeries in Panama and has since been transported back to the United States with the heroic help of Hatzolah Air Medical Transport. He is receiving further care and recovering with family in Wisconsin. 

Although the search by the Panamanians for the aircraft, believed to contain Debra and her friend Sue (of Illinois), are officially still ongoing, they have stalled due to the limited resources of Panama and the non response from the United States to their and our desperate pleas for assistance.

Now…with the help of a Wisconsin-based nonprofit, Bruce’s Legacy, and a Texas-based nonprofit, Texas EquuSearch, a search using specialized sonar equipment and the expertise of many people generously volunteering their time and talent is underway, and we have hope that the plane will soon be found and these loved ones will finally be given the dignity they deserve. 

We are optimistic that the efforts by these nonprofits will lead to a successful recovery operation, and we - the many friends, relatives, colleagues, and former students of these two wonderful families - are stepping forward to help raise money to support the search effort and to help finally bring some needed closure.

All money raised will go to support the ongoing search and recovery effort, as well as reimburse the costs incurred by these amazing nonprofits who have stepped in to help in the wake of this tragedy.

Thank you for your support of the Velleman and Bories families. 


Today, we learned U.S. Congressional Representative Bryan Steil (R-WI) sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the United States government to assist in Debra and Sue's search and rescue.

He joins Sen. Tammy Baldwin 9D-WI), Sen Dick Durbin (D-IL and Rep Scott Fitzgerald (R-WI) and Governor Tony Evers (D-WI) in the nonpartisan requests that the US government assist these Americans.


"The families of two American citizens—still missing after their plane crashed off the coast of Panama—are urging the United States government to help in the search to retrieve their missing loved ones. 

The crash occurred on the afternoon of Monday, January 3. Two American passengers were rescued by Panamanian search and rescue teams, but 57-year-old Sue Borries of Illinois and 70-year-old Deb Velleman of Wisconsin have yet to be found.

The Panamanian government has formally asked the United States for help in the search to recover the American citizens. The U.S Government has responded to the families’ request for additional search assets stating that the United States Government, including both the Department of Defense and U.S. Coast Guard reviewed the request, but ‘did not have assets to deploy. Furthermore, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) does not have jurisdiction in Panama.’

We do not accept this response by our government that the required assets – including US Naval salvage divers and sonar do not exist and/or cannot be deployed to nearby Panama. The families of the missing women – both retired public-school teachers – are on the ground in Panama anxiously awaiting the return of their loved ones.  Panamanian authorities have been conducting a round-the-clock air, sea, and land search-- aware of the aircraft’s last-known coordinates-- but need help in locating the wreckage. Just last week, the US Charge located in Panama informed us that this is NOT a complex deep sea operation due to the location being in relatively shallow waters and close to the coast. This is a search and recovery of an airplane, more importantly and with utmost priority, recovering two U.S. Citizens. The only acceptable outcome is that our loved ones are found and recovered so that our families can begin the long and difficult grieving process. Until our loved ones are recovered and brought home that cannot occur. It is the United States Government’s duty to provide much needed assistance in accomplishing this.

Both the Borries family – U.S. military veterans among them – and the Velleman family implore their government to send the personnel and equipment required to bring these citizens home."



UPDATE (JANUARY 27, 2022, 11 AM ET):

Another US Congressmember has gotten involved in this story after public outcry.  Rep. Bryan Steil (R-WI) sent the attached letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.   Steil joins Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Scott Fitzgerald (R-WI) and Governor Tony Evers (D-WI) in requesting the US government assist these Americans. 

Rep Steil: "I request that the State Department immediately send federal resources and personnel in bringing Debra Velleman home. Our U.S citizens overseas, as well as their families, should not be neglected by our own government during times of crisis.   Secretary Blinken, the Velleman family deserves better.  I request your immediate review and consideration of this time-sensitive request in aiding with search and rescue operations in locating and recovering our fellow American citizens."

When Malaysia Airlines MH370 disappeared over the South China Sea in 2014, the US Navy was dispatched in full force, with video to show off, too:  Three Americans were aboard that plane.  Here, within an hour from our base in Panama, two retired schoolteachers from Wisconsin are probably in the wreckage and even after official requests by— let me count this— the Panamanian government, a US Governor, two US Senators, and two US members of Congress— the US Government hasn’t lifted a finger.  

One family representative is now venturing out into the ocean himself with local fishermen to search for his mother’s and Sue's remains presumably inside the small plane.  

From Jake Velleman:  "It appears the US Government has not acted, and is not coming to assist.  Their inaction is shameful.  All we are asking for is help to locate the plane wreckage.  We’ll handle everything else after.  I want to give my mother a dignified burial and begin the grieving process."


UPDATE (JANUARY 20, 2022, 12PM ET):

  • Retired public school teachers Debra Velleman, 70, of Waukesha WI, and Sue Borries, 57, of Teutopolis IL remain missing.  Day 17.  (since Monday January 3).
  • Anthony Velleman, 70, of Waukesha WI, was released from UW Health in Madison and is with family near Waukesha.   He will undergo several months of intensive rehabilitation to heal from extensive severe injuries suffered in the crash.  He is unable to speak right now.
  • As of today, there has been no help from the US Government.  
  • Gov Tony Evers (WI), Sen Tammy Baldwin (WI), Sen Dick Durbin (IL), Rep Scott Fitzgerald (WI) have all opened inquiries with the Defense Department and State Department, but no response from either DoD or State.
  • *NEW TODAY*: STATEMENT SOT: The Velleman’s son, Jake, has been at the crash site since the beginning.  Today, he issued a video statement on the Facebook page set up: Bring Deb And Sue Back Home LINKED HERE. (video courtesy: Jake Velleman, location is Nueva ):
    • “I received an update this morning that the Panamanians, who are continuing their search a short distance from here for my mom Deb and her friend Sue— having long ago exhausted their limited resources and with no word from the US government in response to their request for help— are now enlisting the help of local shrimper boats to drag nets.  Our family is in pain, we are grieving, and we cannot properly grieve until we recover our loved ones. Why have we not heard from our government?  Why are they not coming to our aid?  This is NOT a complex, deep-sea operation.   The plane will be found. The question is: when will our government step in to help?" ~ Jake Velleman, January 20, 2021


UPDATE (JANUARY 11, 2021, 4PM ET):

Two Americans are still missing after their plane crashed off the coast ten days ago.  Three others were rescued. An AP wire moved on this story when it happened—( )  

Yesterday, the US government rejected an official Panamanian request to aid in the search/rescue/recovery of the plane and the American citizens.   

The two missing occupants, not identified at the time of the AP wire, are retired public-school teachers Debra Ann Velleman, 70, of Waukesha, WI, and Sue L. Borries, 57, of Teutopolis, IL.

The missing persons, suspected to be in the unrecovered wreckage, have not been found at this time, despite the local rescue/recovery efforts of the Autoridad de Aeronautica Civil de Panamá and Sistema Nacional de Protección (SINEPROC).

Through the U.S. Embassy in Panamá (Stewart D. Tuttle, Chargé d’Affaires), advanced sonar equipment had been requested from the U.S. Coast Guard and murky water/low-visibility divers have been requested from the U.S. Navy.    The requests were rejected. 

The families of the missing persons are desperate for support from their government to find their loved ones and are working with Sen Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Rep Scott Fitzgerald (D-WI) on their requests of the State Department and Defense Department to aid in the search.

They just seek help to find the plane, recover their loved ones (if they are in the plane), and bring them home for burial.



·       Albert Lewitinn: , 1-917-743-0202, Velleman family contact (for sons Jake and Josh and survivor Anthony).

·       Stewart D. Tuttle, Chargé d’Affaires/Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy, Panamá (507) 317-5000

·       Director General Capitán Gustavo Pérez Morales, Autoridad de Aeronautica Civil de Panamá: and 507-315-9022 (public relations phone number) or 507-315-9000 (receptionist) or

·       Jose Manuel Hurtado Zuñiga. COORDINADOR NACIONAL DE BÚSQUEDA Y SALVAMENTO AERONÁUTICO (Coordinator, National Aeronautical Search and Rescue) 



-   Panamanian military put out a 2:30 VNR:

-      TVN Panama:

-     WMAQ local:






·     CNN 1/14:























     Date of Accident: 03-January 2022

     Time of Accident: 15:00

     Location of Accident: off the coast of Chame, Panamá Oeste, Panamá

     Phase: en route from Contadora Island Airport (OTD/MPRA)

     Type of plane: Piper PA-32-260 Cherokee Six

     Registration: N5535J

     MSN: 32-998

     Pilot: Robert A. Breadner (aka “Allan Breadner”) 








Senator Tammy Baldwin          

                               202-224-5653            608-264-5338         Email


Congressional Rep. Scott Fitzgerald          

                               202-225-5101               262-784-1111               Email