The last time Kerri Kelly saw Bill Kinsinger was right before Christmas.
Kinsinger, an Oklahoma City doctor and volunteer pilot for Pilots N Paws, flew a rescued pug to Dolly's Legacy Animal Rescue in Lincoln, where Kelly is director.
Kelly laughed as she handed Kinsinger a Christmas gift — a Husker hat and a pullover sweater.
"Being from Oklahoma, he's a big Sooner fan," she said. "And I told him 'I'm going to make a Husker fan out of you yet!'"
Kelly had no idea that would probably be the last time she'd see Kinsinger.
The two had worked together for about two years, during which Kinsinger flew nearly 150 dogs to the foster-based rescue in Lincoln.
She sent him a text Wednesday to double check that he was still planning to fly a group of dogs to the shelter next Saturday. She didn't hear back until later that night.
"I got a message back saying he was missing," she said. "My heart sank right out of me."
Kinsinger's plane went missing Jan. 3, while he was headed to Georgetown, Texas to rescue a disabled dog.
The plane continued to fly past Georgetown and two F-16 fighters were sent to try to alert the pilot. North American Aerospace Defense Command reports said Kinsinger was unresponsive and he may have been suffering from hypoxia, where his brain was not receiving enough oxygen.
There is an ongoing search for Kinsinger and the plane in the Gulf of Mexico.
Dolly's Legacy Animal Rescue has worked with Pilots N Paws for about a decade, Kelly said. Although they've worked with several volunteer pilots to transport and rescue dogs, Kinsinger was their main point of contact over the last few years.
"Bill was extraordinary," Kelly said. "He was generous and kind and probably the greatest thing he had was his compassion. He had a big heart for animals and he loved them all."
Kinsinger had been planning to fly 21 dogs to Lincoln on Saturday. Some came from a rural, outdoor-only shelter without electricity and poor living conditions, Kelly said. Others in the group were found as strays or surrendered by a breeding operation.
After Kinsinger went missing, Kelly found someone willing to drive the dogs to Lincoln. She said Sunday afternoon that they were expected to arrive later that night and would be posted for adoption shortly after.
Despite the tragedy, Kelly knows Bill would be happy to know the dogs were on their way to safety.
"He was quite an amazing man," Kelly said. "I'm still holding out hope for a miracle because they haven't found him yet."