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  • NEW: Malaysia to ask U.S. for remotely operated submersibles, other gear, official says
  • The first search plane returns Friday without finding anything of note
  • Weather conditions are better than Thursday, an Australian maritime official says
  • "It could just be a container that has fallen off a ship," the Australian Prime Minister says


(CNN) -- Despite better weather, the first of five search planes dispatched to look for floating debris that could be related to missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 returned to base Friday without spotting anything of note.
The surveillance planes are looking for two objects photographed by a commercial satellite on Sunday bobbing in the remote and treacherous waters of the southern Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia.
Aircraft and a merchant ship scoured the area Thursday, but found nothing in a search hindered by poor weather.
Flight 370 vanished 14 days ago with 239 people aboard, and the announcement Thursday by Australian officials that they had spotted something raised hopes of a breakthrough in the frustrating search.
On Friday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott defended the decision to announce the find, saying that Australia owes it to families f those missing "to give them information as soon as it's to hand, and I think I was doing that yesterday in the Parliament."
But he reiterated a warning that two objects spotted by satellite in a remote area of the southern Indian Ocean, which are now being sought by aircraft and ships, may not be related to the search for the plane.
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Longest piece of debris about 79 ft. long
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Flight 370: 'New and credible information'
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'Credible' debris found in Indian Ocean
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'This is not a popular place to be'
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Satellite imagery provided by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority on Thursday, March 20, shows debris in the southern Indian Ocean that could be from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The Boeing 777-200ER disappeared during a March 8 flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Searchers from 26 countries are trying to pinpoint its location somewhere along two vast arcs, one stretching deep into the Asian landmass, the other far out into the Indian Ocean.

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A closer look at the satellite shot of possible debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

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Another satellite shot provided by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority on March 20 shows possible debris from the flight estimated to be approximately 5 meters (16 feet) across.

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A closer look at the satellite shot of possible debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

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The Australian Maritime Safety Authority's John Young speaks to the media in Canberra, Australia, on March 20 about satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search for the Malaysian Airlines flight.

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A distraught relative of a passenger on the missing Malaysia Airlines jet breaks down while talking to reporters at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, on Wednesday, March 19.

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A relative of Chinese passengers aboard the missing plane waits for a news briefing by officials in Beijing on Tuesday, March 18.

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A relative of a Chinese passenger aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 tells reporters in Beijing on March 18 about a hunger strike to protest authorities' handling of information about the missing jet.

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A member of Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency joins in a search for the missing plane in the Andaman Sea area around the northern tip of Indonesia's Sumatra on Monday, March 17.

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Relatives of passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 watch a news program about the missing plane as they await information at a hotel ballroom in Beijing on March 17.

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Malaysian Transportation Minister Hishamuddin Hussein, center, shows maps of the search area at a hotel next to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on March 17.

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U.S. Navy crew members assist in search-and-rescue operations Sunday, March 16, in the Indian Ocean.

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Indonesian personnel watch over high seas during a search operation in the Andaman Sea on Saturday, March 15.

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A foam plane, which has personalized messages for the missing flight's passengers, is seen at a viewing gallery March 15 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

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A member of the Malaysian navy makes a call as his ship approaches a Chinese coast guard ship in the South China Sea on March 15.

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A Indonesian ship heads to the Andaman Sea during a search operation near the tip of Sumatra, Indonesia, on March 15.

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Elementary school students pray for the missing passengers during class in Medan, Indonesia, on March 15.

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Col. Vu Duc Long of the Vietnam air force fields reporters' questions at an air base in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, after a search operation on Friday, March 14.

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Members of the Chinese navy continue search operations on Thursday, March 13. The search area for Flight 370 has grown wider. After starting in the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam, the plane's last confirmed location, efforts are expanding west into the Indian Ocean.

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A Vietnamese military official looks out an aircraft window during search operations March 13.

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Malaysian air force members look for debris on March 13 near Kuala Lumpur.

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A relative of a missing passenger watches TV at a Beijing hotel as she waits for the latest news March 13.

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A member of the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency scans the horizon in the Strait of Malacca on Wednesday, March 12.

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Relatives of missing passengers wait for the latest news at a hotel in Beijing on March 12.

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Journalists raise their hands to ask questions during a news conference in Sepang on March 12.

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Indonesian air force officers in Medan, Indonesia, examine a map of the Strait of Malacca on March 12.

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A member of the Vietnamese air force checks a map while searching for the missing plane on Tuesday, March 11.

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Iranians Pouri Nourmohammadi, second left, and Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza, far right, were identified by Interpol as the two men who used stolen passports to board the flight. But there's no evidence to suggest either was connected to any terrorist organizations, according to Malaysian investigators. Malaysian police believe Nourmohammadi was trying to emigrate to Germany using the stolen Austrian passport.

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An Indonesian navy crew member scans an area of the South China Sea bordering Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand on Monday, March 10.

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Vietnam air force Col. Le Huu Hanh is reflected on the navigation control panel of a plane that is part of the search operation over the South China Sea on March 10.

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Relatives of the missing flight's passengers wait in a Beijing hotel room on March 10.

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A U.S. Navy Seahawk helicopter lands aboard the USS Pinckney to change crews before returning to search for the missing plane Sunday, March 9, in the Gulf of Thailand.

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Members of the Fo Guang Shan rescue team offer a special prayer March 9 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

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A handout picture provided by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency shows personnel checking a radar screen during search-and-rescue operations March 9.

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Italian tourist Luigi Maraldi, who reported his passport stolen in August, shows his current passport during a news conference at a police station in Phuket island, Thailand, on March 9. Two passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight were reportedly traveling on stolen passports belonging to Maraldi and an Austrian citizen whose papers were stolen two years ago.

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Hugh Dunleavy, commercial director of Malaysia Airlines, speaks to journalists March 9 at a Beijing hotel where relatives and friends of the missing flight's passengers are staying.

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Vietnamese air force crew stand in front of a plane at Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City on March 9 before heading out to the area between Vietnam and Malaysia where the airliner vanished.

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Buddhist monks at Kuala Lumpur International Airport offer a special prayer for the missing passengers on March 9.

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The Chinese navy warship Jinggangshan prepares to leave Zhanjiang Port early on March 9 to assist in search-and-rescue operations for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight. The Jinggangshan, an amphibious landing ship, is loaded with lifesaving equipment, underwater detection devices and supplies of oil, water and food.

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Members of a Chinese emergency response team board a rescue vessel at the port of Sanya in China's Hainan province on March 9. The vessel is carrying 12 divers and will rendezvous with another rescue vessel on its way to the area where contact was lost with Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

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The rescue vessel sets out from Sanya in the South China Sea.

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A family member of missing passengers is mobbed by journalists at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Saturday, March 8.

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A Vietnamese air force plane found traces of oil that authorities had suspected to be from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, the Vietnamese government online newspaper reported March 8. However, a sample from the slick showed it was bunker oil, typically used to power large cargo ships, Malaysia's state news agency, Bernama, reported on March 10.

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Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, center, arrives to meet family members of missing passengers at the reception center at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on March 8.

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Malaysia Airlines official Joshua Law Kok Hwa, center, speaks to reporters in Beijing on March 8.

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A relative of two missing passengers reacts at their home in Kuala Lumpur on March 8.

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Wang Yue, director of marketing of Malaysia Airlines in China, reads a company statement during a news conference at the Metro Park Lido Hotel in Beijing on March 8.

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Chinese police at the Beijing airport stand beside the arrival board showing delayed Flight 370 in red on March 8.

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A woman asks a staff member at the Beijing airport for more information on the missing flight.

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A Malaysian man who says he has relatives on board the missing plane talks to journalists at the Beijing airport on March 8.

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Passengers walk past a Malaysia Airlines sign on March 8 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

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Malaysia Airlines Group CEO Ahmad Juahari Yahya, front, speaks during a news conference on March 8 at a hotel in Sepang. "We deeply regret that we have lost all contacts" with the jet, he said.


The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

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Photos: The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370


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Malaysia to aid in debris search
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Thailand radar tracked unknown signal
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Families wait for word from Australia
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'This is not a popular place to be'
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'This is not a popular place to be'
"It could just be a container that has fallen off a ship," he said during a visit to Papua New Guinea. "We just don't know."
His words have focused worldwide attention on Australia's part in the massive international hunt for the jetliner, which disappeared March 8 over Southeast Asia with 239 people on board.
Almost two weeks after the Boeing 777-200 dropped off radar screens, authorities still don't know why it veered dramatically off course or where it ended up.
On Friday, Malaysia's interim Transportation Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, tried to reset expectations for a quick resolution to the mystery surrounding the plane.
"This is going to be a long haul," he said.
Hishammuddin said his country had asked for specialized assets from the United States, including remotely operated submersibles, to aid in the search.
He also said the United Kingdom was sending the HMS Echo to the scene to aid a growing international force searching the southern Indian Ocean. Chinese and Malaysian vessels are also steaming to the area to join the Norwegian merchant vessel already on station there.
Visual search
Aircraft from Australia and the United States have staggered their departures to the area. The first plane returned without finding anything, and two other aircraft are now inside the search area, Australian officials said. A fourth plane was due to arrive in the zone soon.
The weather conditions Friday are better, said John Young, emergency response manager for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said. Flight crews are searching for the objects visually rather than using radar, he said.
"That's encouraging," he said. "But we have no sightings yet."
Given the distance from Australia to where the objects were spotted by a commercial satellite, the aircraft will only have about two hours in the search area before having to start the return journey.
Young cautioned that the search zone is "a big area when you're looking out the window trying to see something by eye."
The flight crews may have to repeat sequences of flights like those undertaken Thursday and Friday "a few times" before they can be confident of having covered the whole area, he said.
Along with the aircraft, a motley collection of merchant ships are heading to the search area, where they will join a massive Norwegian cargo ship diverted there Thursday at the request of Australia.
The sailors aboard the Norwegian ship worked throughout the night looking for the objects, said Erik Gierchsky, a spokesman for the Norwegian Shipowners Association.
Locators needed
If the objects are determined to be debris from Flight 370, experts say that search teams may then use locators to try to find any pings in the area emanating from the plane's flight data recorder.
Hishammuddin tweeted Friday that the search and rescue teams working across a wide area of the Indian Ocean are in need of the locators, also known as hydrophones. He said not many countries have them.
Hishammuddin said he would be speaking to U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday.
The batteries that power the pings from the flight recorder have a life expectancy of 30 days, meaning they will probably last about another 16 days.
But one expert warns that the depths of the Indian Ocean may make it hard to put the hydrophones to use.
"At this water depth, the range is very limited on listening to those pingers," said Mike Williamson, who runs a Seattle engineering firm specializing in deep-sea searches of planes and shipwrecks.
Deleted files sought
Malaysian authorities say they believe that the missing plane was deliberately flown off course during its scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. But they haven't so far found any clear evidence to indicate who might have changed the plane's path and why.
The pilot and first officer of the plane have come under particular scrutiny, especially in light of information suggesting a sharp turn in the flight path had been programmed into the plane's flight management system before one of the pilots gave a routine sign-off to Malaysian air traffic controllers.
Question marks remain over data that authorities say was deleted from the hard drive of a flight simulator found at the home of the plane's pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah.
On Thursday, a U.S. official familiar with the investigation told CNN that an FBI team is confident that it will be able to retrieve at least some of the deleted files.
Investigators will also analyze websites that Zaharie and the first officer, Fariq Ab Hamid, may have visited recently, the official said on the condition of anonymity.
Passengers also continue to be investigated. On Friday, Hishammuddin said Ukraine told Malaysia that background checks on its citizens aboard the plane had come back clear.
Families frustrated
The delays have frustrated and angered family members, some of whom have accused Malaysian officials of withholding information, or at the very least failing to update them.
For the first time since the plane disappeared, Malaysia sent a high-level delegation to Beijing to brief families who had opted not to travel to Malaysia to wait out the search.
Hishammuddin said the 3 1/2 hour meeting went as well as could be expected given the lack of information about what happened to the plane.
"Although we answered most of the questions they raised, we could not answer them all," he said.
New theories about disappearance
Witnesses claim they saw plane
LIVE: Latest updates on the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner
If this is the debris of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, what happens next?
Anger as relatives confront officials
Difficulties may hamper Flight 370 search
Searching for the plane truth -- amid speculation
CNN's Mitra Mobasherat, Kyung Lah, Chelsea J. Carter, Mike Pearson, Brian Walker, Elizabeth Joseph, Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz contributed to this report.

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