A New Zealand P3 Orion aircraft with special observation equipment dropped a marker buoy to track the movements of any material that might be in the water. Spotters saw small objects but aircraft diverted to the location found only seaweed, said Australian officials.
Six planes took off to search for possible parts of the plane, checking waters about 1,500 miles southwest of Perth. As other ships headed toward the area to contribute to the search, the British Ministry of Defense told ABC News that the British HMS Echo, a hydrographic survey ship, had yet to leave the Persian Gulf and would not arrive for at least 10 days.
A Norwegian merchant ship that had been asked to divert from its planned course to help search the area was allowed to continue on its planned route to Melbourne, said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
Weather is adding further difficulty to the search efforts. A tropical storm is headed for the search area, Acting Australian Prime Minister Warren Truss said, with strong winds expected.
Satellite images released by Australia showed two objects – the biggest about 80 feet long – in the southern Indian Ocean. Those images were taken March 16, but the search in the area did not start until Thursday, March 20, because it took time to analyze the images.
During a news conference, Truss questioned whether the delay meant search crews missed their chance to find the objects.
"The fact that it's six days ago that this imagery was captured does mean, clearly, what objects that were there are likely to have moved a significant distance as a result of currents and winds. It's also possible of course that they've just drifted to the bottom of the ocean bed," he said.
Truss remained optimistic about the search efforts.
"It is a very remote area, but we intend to continue the search until we're absolutely satisfied that further searching would be futile. And that day is not in sight," he said.
Aircraft in the Indian Ocean included two ultra-long-range commercial jets and four P3 Orions, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
Because of the distance to the area, the Orions will have enough fuel to search for two hours, while the commercial jets can stay for five hours before heading back to the base.
Two merchant ships were in the area, and the HMAS Success, a navy supply ship, was due to arrive late Saturday afternoon. Weather in the search zone was expected to be relatively good, with some cloud cover.
Two Chinese aircraft were expected to arrive in Perth Saturday to join the search, and two Japanese planes will arrive Sunday. A small flotilla of ships from China is still several days away. The Malaysian plane passengers included 154 Chinese.
Malaysia – which is overseeing the overall search efforts – asked the U.S. for undersea surveillance equipment to help in the search, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel promised to assess the availability of the technology and its usefulness in the search, Kirby said.
The Pentagon says it has spent $2.5 million to operate ships and aircraft in the search and has budgeted another $1.5 million for the efforts.