The search is on for an animal rescue pilot whose small plane went missing over the Gulf of Mexico. The plane, a Cirrus SR-22 that can seat up to five people, had taken off from Wiley Post Airport in Oklahoma City.

The plane's pilot was John William "Bill" Kinsinger, who was heading to Texas as part of an animal rescue charity.

Kinsinger, a medical director of obstetric anaesthesia, was remembered by several animal rescue group posts on social media as a beloved Pilots N Paws pilot who has helped save many animals in need.

His plane departed shortly before 2.20pm on Wednesday (3 January) and was expected to arrive at 6.12pm at Georgetown Municipal Airport in Texas.

But radar data showed that the plane veered from its flight path near Waco, Texas.

The Coast Guard announced it is searching for the last point of contact to confirm whether or not the aircraft is truly lost while the North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad) sent four F-16 fighter jets to help in the search.

In a statement to KFOR-TV, INTEGRIS Health called Kinsinger a "longtime employee and friend".

The statement continued: "He was piloting his plane yesterday evening in route to Texas to pick-up some rescue dogs in need of help, when his plane mysteriously veered off course. When he did not respond to air traffic control communication attempts, a military plane was sent to investigate.

"The military crew made visual contact of Kinsinger's plane and determined he was unresponsive. His plane eventually went down in the Gulf of Mexico. The Coast Guard is currently searching the area."

The plane had a lever-operated emergency parachute system. It was registered to Abide Aviation LLC of Edmond, Oklahoma. It had tail number N325JK and was last observed on radar about 219 miles northwest of Cancun at 15,000 feet, heading into the Gulf of Mexico.

The investigation is now being headed by the US Coast Guard, the US State Department and Mexican authorities.