April 19 (Reuters) - Authorities said the pilot of a small plane circling over the Gulf of Mexico near Florida on Thursday was not responding to radio calls.
The privately owned Cessna was enroute to Sarasota, Florida, from Slidell, Louisiana, and air traffic controllers lost contact with the pilot after it took off, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman said.
The plane was at 20,000 feet (6,000 m), circling 150 miles (240 km) South of Crestview, Florida, and due to run out of fuel, the spokeswoman said. It may have already crashed into Gulf waters.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) sent jet fighters up, but could not hail the unidentified pilot, the FAA spokeswoman said.
In a previous incident involving a “ghost plane,” professional golfer Payne Stewart and five others died aboard a chartered private jet October 25, 1999. The plane lost cabin pressure, incapacitating those on board, and flew for four hours before crashing into a field near Aberdeen, South Dakota. (Reporting By Andrew Stern; Editing by Vicki Allen)