Family of Waukesha woman who died in Panama plane crash to hold thank you ceremony

PANAMA (CBS 58) -- The family of a Waukesha woman who died in a plane crash off the coast of Panama is planning a ceremony to thank the people of Panama who aided in the extensive search to find her. 

On Jan. 3, retired school teachers Debra Velleman of Waukesha and Sue Borries of Teutopolis, Illinois, were aboard a small plane with three others flying from an island off the coast of Panama back to the mainland. They had spent the New Year's holiday on Isla Contadora and were on the returning trip when the plane crashed in the ocean.

The pilot, a Canadian woman and Debra's husband Anthony survived and were immediately rescued after the crash. But Debra and Sue remained missing, sparking a near month-long search for them.

On Jan. 31, the families were notified the bodies of Velleman and Borries were recovered. 

The cause of the plane crash remains under investigation. 

Anthony Velleman and his son, Jake, will head to Panama later this month for a "thank you" gathering set for April 28. 

The Velleman family shared a statement that reads in part: 

"On top of the unimaginable losses we suffered, we struggled through shock, misinformation, lack of information, emergency medical needs, and a complicated process of rescue, search, recovery, and repatriation.

With limited government assistance, and outside of our home country, we relied on others - nonprofit entities and private citizens alike - who selflessly gave of their time, energy, and resources to come to our aid. For this, we are eternally grateful.

We would like to ask one additional favor of you. Anthony Velleman, who was rescued after surviving the crash, is coming to Panama later this month together with his son Jake. He continues to work towards a full recovery from his injuries, and would very much like to meet you and thank you in person for your help. Though we continue to mourn the loss of Debra and Sue, we know this informal gathering will be an important step in the healing process, as well as meaningful for all who are able to attend."

The thank you gathering details are below: 

Date: Thursday, April 28

Time: Late afternoon/early evening, exact timing to be confirmed

Location: To be confirmed, closer to the date, in Panama

Additional Details: Food and beverages, strictly kosher, will be provided. If you will require transportation, please inform us so we can assist. Please feel free to dress casually.

The Velleman family is asking attendees to RSVP by Friday, April 15. 

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