BEIJING — With favorable weather, Australian authorities Saturday added more aircraft and broadened the area of the remote Indian Ocean being searched for any trace of the Malaysian airliner missing for two weeks.
Three planes, a P-3 Orion and two commercial jets, left Saturday morning on the four-hour trip to the area, about 1,500 miles southwest of Perth, said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the search. Three other P-3 aircraft, including one from New Zealand, will leave later in the day.
They will cover 36,000 square kilometers, about 14,000 square miles; that's roughly 50% larger than the area searched Friday. Because of the distance to and from the area, the Orions can search for only two hours but the commercial planes can spend five hours looking, the maritime agency said.
Two merchant ships are already in the area, and the Royal Australian Navy HMAS Success is scheduled to arrive late Saturday afternoon.
The hunt for Flight MH370 has focused there since "credible" satellite images revealed objects that might be wreckage from the Boeing 777, which vanished March 8 with 239 people aboard.
Malaysia had considered the finding one of the "best leads" yet in finding the plane, but Australia's acting prime minister, Warren Truss, tried to temper expectations Friday.
"Something that was floating on the sea that long ago may no longer be floating — it may have slipped to the bottom," he said. "It's also certain that any debris or other material would have moved a significant distance over that time, potentially hundreds of kilometers."
The area being searched is about 9,800 feet deep, the Australian maritime safety authority said.
Truss, who is acting prime minister while Tony Abbott is in Papua New Guinea, said that "nothing of particular significance" had been identified in Friday's search.
Truss told reporters that two Chinese aircraft are expected to arrive in Perth on Saturday to join the search, and two Japanese aircraft will be arriving Sunday. A small flotilla of ships coming to Australia from China was still several days away.
Flight MH370 had departed Kuala Lumpur shortly after midnight bound for Beijing when it vanished from civilian radar an hour into its flight. Most of the passengers are Chinese, and on Friday relatives of those passengers met in Beijing with a delegation from the Malaysian government.
Chinese who attended pressed the Malaysians about the possibility the plane was hijacked. On the WeChat social media group set up by relatives of the 153 missing Chinese passengers, posters tried to stay positive.
"I wish our relatives in whatever place are also enjoying the beauty of life," said one woman, who like most on the site did not use her real name.
Others accused Malaysia of a cover-up.
"Let's calm down and learn some related knowledge, then we can ask the Malaysians sharply, and force them not to hide the truth, to help our relatives come home as soon as possible," he wrote.
Australia sent one plane to fly over one of the remotest places where the satellite images were taken and another four planes flew toward desolate islands of the Antarctic.
In Papua New Guinea, Abbott said he has spoken with a "devastated" Chinese President Xi Jinping but had no good news for him.
The objects caught on satellite "could just be a container that's fallen off a ship — we just don't know."
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"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," Abbott said.
The area in the southern Indian Ocean is so remote it takes aircraft four hours to fly there and four hours back, and leaves them only about two hours to search. The area is one of rough seas and often very poor visibility from the air.
Lisa Martin, spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, said weather conditions got better as the day wore on, with moderate seas and some cloud cover, and improving visibility. A search Thursday had to be halted because of bad weather and nightfall.
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Friday he would be speaking to U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel "to request further specialist assets to help with the search-and-rescue efforts, including remotely operated vehicles for deep ocean salvage."
In a statement later in the day, the Pentagon said Hagel told Hishammuddin that he "would assess the availability and utility of military undersea technology for such a task and provide him an update in the very near future."
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Contributing: Michael Winter; The Associated Press