The son of Waukesha woman Debra Velleman, who went missing after the plane she was on crashed off the coast of Panama on Jan. 3, says the U.S. government is still refusing to assist in the search for her and a fellow passenger who also remains missing.
Jake Velleman said Friday that the refusal to help find his mother, 70, as well as Sue Borries, 57, of Illinois continues despite the involvement of some members of Congress. He's in Panama assisting with the search.
"We all still have the same assessment of the situation, which is that these are two U.S. citizens. This was a U.S.-registered aircraft manufactured in the United States. The engine was manufactured in the United States. The U.S. has some jurisdictional responsibility," Velleman said in a phone interview Friday.
"But more importantly, these are two U.S. citizens of whom there are two grieving U.S. families in distress and thus far, all I've received from the U.S. Embassy is some information, most of it not actionable — much of it not timely."
Other than providing his father, Anthony, who was also on the plane but survived the crash, a passport to get out of the country, Velleman said "it's pretty quiet" from the U.S. government save for the legislators advocating for the family. That includes Senator Tammy Baldwin and Congressman Scott Fitzgerald from Wisconsin and Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois.
Velleman said the most assistance he and his family have received has been from charitable organizations and "people volunteering their effort on their behalf."
"It's extremely disheartening," Velleman said. "This was last Monday when this occurred. We always hope we never have to reach out for help, especially to our government. I guess I'd always sort of wondered if I ever needed help in times of great need, if my government would be there for me. Thus far the answer here is no they haven't."
Velleman said he hasn't been given a reason for the government's refusal to aid in the search.
"Unless some bean counter has done some cost benefit analysis and said 'This isn't worth us sending even the most minimal of resources', I can't think of what it would be," Velleman said. "Everyone is in agreement these assets exist. Everyone is in agreement that the U.S. government has a responsibility to help its citizens. We don't know what the hold up is."
A call to the U.S. Embassy in Panama went to a busy signal. An email sent to the public affairs section is awaiting a reply.
Father injured in crash has been medically evacuated to Wisconsin
Anthony Velleman, Jake's father, was medically evacuated out of Panama and arrived in Wisconsin on Thursday evening, according to an email from Albert Lewitinn's, the Velleman family's media contact.
Specifically, Jake Velleman said his father was re-admitted to a hospital in Madison to continue receiving on-going medical treatment. Jake's brother, Josh, who had also been in Panama assisting with the search, traveled back with their father.
Velleman said "this is not a complex, deep sea exploration mission or anything like that" because the plane crashed right off the coast and the coordinates and general area of its location are available.
"What I've been told repeatedly — including these days that I've been out on the beach with binoculars talking to the search and rescue team, speaking with the search and rescue team — they have basically said in confidence 'the day the Americans actually show up to help is the day we find your loved ones,'" Velleman said.
Velleman was scheduled to appear on CNN Friday afternoon to make another plea for the government's help. He said while it's uncomfortable for him to be on camera, he wants closure for his and Borries' family.
Prior to the crash, the Vellemans were spending the winter at their second home in Panama. The couple are originally from Appleton and later moved to Waukesha. In Waukesha, Debra Velleman served as a public school teacher for 40 years.
The couple were celebrating the New Years' weekend on Isla Contadora, off the coast of Panama. A friend, who owns a bed and breakfast on the island, would fly people to and from the island on his small plane, Lewittinn previously said.
The Vellemans were on that plane Jan. 3 returning to the mainland from when the plane, which was piloted by the bed and breakfast owner, crashed.
A social media post from Jake Velleman last week said the plane had experienced an engine failure.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: U.S. still won't aid in search for missing Wisconsin woman, son says