The first plane sent on Friday to fly over one of the remotest places on Earth returned empty-handed from its hunt through rough seas for objects that may be from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, Australian officials said.
Another three planes were still in the area trying to help solve the nearly 2-week-old aviation mystery, and another was on the way to look for two large objects a satellite detected floating off the southwest coast of Australia about halfway to the desolate islands of the Antarctic.
A search on Thursday with four planes in cloud and rain found nothing, and so far efforts on Friday were the same, with a Royal Australian Air Force P3 Orion plane flying back to Australia.
Two more Orions and a Bombardier Global Express were still scouring the area 2,300 kilometres from western Australia, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. A US Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft also was in the air.
Warren Truss, who is acting Australia's Prime Minister while Tony Abbott is in Papua New Guinea, told reporters that "nothing of particular significance" had been identified in Friday’s search.
Lisa Martin, spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, said weather conditions were getting better as the day wore on, with moderate seas and some cloud cover, and improving visibility.
Mike Yardley, an air commodore with New Zealand’s Air Force, said the search on Thursday was hampered when an Orion was forced to duck below thick clouds and fog to a very low altitude of 200 feet.
But Mr. Yardley was optimistic that the searchers will find the objects. “We will find it I’m sure about that piece of it. The only reason we wouldn’t find it was that it has sunk,” he said of the large unidentified object spotted by the satellite.
“I’ve been on these missions before when it’s taken a few days to come across it,” he said.
Abbott speaks to Xi
Speaking at a news conference in Papua New Guinea, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said, “We’ve been throwing everything we’ve got at that area to try to learn more about what this debris might be.”
Mr. Abbott spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he described as “devastated.” Of the 227 passengers on the missing flight, 154 were from China.
“It’s about the most inaccessible spot that you could imagine on the face of the earth, but if there is anything down there we will find it. We owe it to the families of those people to do no less,” Mr. Abbott said.
In Beijing, relatives met on Friday with Malaysian officials at the Lido Hotel, where most have been staying awaiting the latest news.
Wang Zhen, son of artist Wang Linshi, said the meeting went smoothly but that there were questions on why Malaysian authorities had provided so much seemingly contradictory information.
Mr. Wang said he has hopes his father can be found alive and was praying that the Australian reports turn out to be false. He said he and other relatives are suspicious about what they were being told by the Malaysian side, but are at a loss as to what to do next.
“We feel they’re hiding something from us,” said Mr. Wang.