Piper PA32
A small single-engine Piper PA-32, like this one, was flying from San Jose to Las Vegas on 19 December when it crashed in an almond orchardAdrian Pingstone via Wikimedia Commons

Five people have been found dead in a wreckage in an almond orchard in central California a day after a small aircraft disappeared from radar.

The single-engine Piper PA32 was flying from San Jose to Las Vegas when it lost contact with air traffic controllers around 4pm PST/12am GMT on 19 December.

According to CNN, the plane had sent a mayday call at 4.30pm.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are investigating the cause for the crash.

The wreckage was discovered southwest of Bakersfield around three hours after rescuers received an alert from the FAA about a missing plane.

Sergeant Mark King from Kern County Sheriff's Office told reporters the victims' identities have not yet been released.

"It's going to take a lot of footwork to conduct the investigation. We do not expect to have positive identification of the passengers until Monday."

King said that weather could have been a factor and it had been rainy and cloudy south of Bakersfield around the time the plane disappeared.

It can take the NTSB months or longer to find the probable cause for an accident, CNN reported.