Search efforts continue for missing Waukesha and Illinois women after plane crash off Panama coast

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Authorities continue search efforts for two missing American women following a plane crash off the coast of Panama earlier this week.

The crash happened on Jan. 3. The plane was flying from Isla Contadora back to the mainland to Punta Chame in Panama, with four passengers and the pilot on board.

Two of the passengers were Anthony and Debra Velleman, both 70, who lived in Waukesha for several years before retiring in Panama where they have a second home.

"The plane reported engine trouble, issued a mayday call and landed in the water," Albert Lewitinn, the Velleman family spokesman, told CBS 58 in an interview.

Anthony Velleman, a Canadian woman and the pilot were all found and transported to a local hospital to treat their injuries.

Debra Velleman and a woman from Illinois have not yet been located (an earlier CBS 58 report incorrectly said both missing were from Wisconsin).

According to Lewitinn, Anthony Velleman had the first of two surgeries to treat injuries from the crash on Jan. 7, with another scheduled for Jan. 10.

Panamanian authorities have been searching for the missing women all week. In a video posted by the Panamanian Aeronautical Authority on Jan. 5, they said they were working with a search zone of approximately 30 miles in radius. The Panamanian government has also requested help from the U.S., according to Lewitinn.

Family of the Vellemans have traveled down to Panama as efforts continue in hopes of Debra being found.

"They were living a good life," Lewitinn said. "They loved, loved retiring. They thought it was just magical where they were and it's truly sad that this occurred."

Lewitinn added the family sends their thanks to support from the community in Wisconsin and in Panama.

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