Debra Wellman of Wisconsin, Sue Berry of Illinois missing a week after the Panama plane crash; Families say US government has failed to act

Chicago (CBS) – A plane carrying five people – including a retired schoolteacher from Illinois – went down in Panama earlier this month.


Amazingly, three people were later found alive. But the teacher and another teacher were still missing after more than a week on Friday.

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CBS 2’s Charli De Mar talks with their families as each day brings more anxiety. Both missing female families say they feel lost in a sea of ​​bureaucracy, and one woman’s son is asking the US government to try and send some resources – which she said has not happened so far.

The plane went overboard on Monday, January 3 while taking off from Isla Contadora to Punta Cham on the Panama mainland, CBS 58 Milwaukee reported,


There were four people and a pilot on board the plane at the time. These included Anthony and Debra Wellman of Waukesha, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee; Sue Sacks of Downstate Teutopolis, Illinois; And Melissa Zachrich — only with a Canadian pilot described by CBS 58 — as being from the US.

Anthony Wellman, Zacharych and the pilot were rescued and survived. But Borys and Debra Wellman were missing as of late Friday.

“We are two unhappy families literally on the beach with binoculars,” said Wellman’s son, Jake Wellman.


Officials in Panama have joined air and ground search operations.

“They have an excellent search and rescue team, but they need help,” said Jake Wellman.

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Jake Wellman says it’s not enough – Debra Wellman, along with her mother and a family friend, Borys, is still missing.

“Everyone is asking the same question, which is, where is America’s reaction to this?” Jake Wellman said.

Borys, 57, and Debra Wellman, 70, are both former public school teachers. They became fast friends as migrants spent their winters in Panama.

Jake said the small plane’s engine did not cause the accident.

“You know, I’m crying every day, because I’m — both out of frustration with the situation and because my parents were deeply lived by many, many people,” he said.

Jake Wellman said that so far he has received little or no help from the US government. He fears that without that help, the plane and the two women might never have met.

“The moment someone does the right thing and becomes involved in a meaningful way, we hope, is the moment we can finally move on to the grieving process,” he said.

Wellman’s father was moved back to Wisconsin, where he has had several surgeries.

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The Borys and Wellman families were released The following statement: This week:

“The families of two US citizens – still missing after their plane crashed off the coast of Panama – are urging the United States government to help find their missing loved ones.

“The accident occurred on the afternoon of Monday, January 3. Two American passengers were rescued by search and rescue teams from Panama, but Sue Boris, 57, of Illinois and Deb Welleman, 70, of Wisconsin, have not yet been found.

“The Government of Panama has formally asked the United States for help in the search to recover American citizens. The US Government has responded to a request from families for additional search properties, stating that the United States Government, Which includes both the Defense Department and the US Coast Guard, reviewed the request, but ‘did not have assets to deploy. Furthermore, the National Transportation Security Board (NTSB) does not have jurisdiction in Panama.’

“We do not accept our government’s response that essential assets, including US Navy rescue divers and sonar, do not exist and/or cannot be deployed to nearby Panama. Families of the missing women – both retired public-school Teachers – on the ground in Panama and eagerly awaiting the return of their loved ones. Panama authorities are searching air, sea and land around the clock – know the last-known coordinates of the plane – but the wreckage Just last week, the US charge based in Panama informed us that this is not a complex deep sea operation due to its relatively shallow waters and close to shore. It is an airplane search. And recovery is, more importantly and with the utmost priority, recovering two US citizens. The only acceptable outcome is that our loved ones are found and recover so that our families can begin the long and difficult grieving process. until our loved ones are healed and not home Until it is brought, it cannot happen. It is the duty of the United States government to provide much needed assistance in accomplishing this.

“Both the Borys family – among them US military veterans – and the Wellman family urge their government to send the necessary personnel and equipment to bring these citizens home.”

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