Search teams began scouring a remote section of the Indian Ocean for possible debris from Malaysia Airlines 3786.KU +2.13% Flight 370 a second day, after satellite images pointed to new potential clues on the missing jet.
An Australian-led operation on Friday directed five aircraft to a revised area about 1,550 miles from the Western Australian capital of Perth to search for two objects spotted on satellite images. One, at about 79 feet, is larger than a shipping container.
"This is the first tangible breakthrough in what has been an utterly baffling mystery," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said a day earlier. Still, Australian maritime authorities cautioned that their search may also be fruitless and the debris could be unrelated to the missing plane.
On Friday afternoon, maritime authorities said no physical debris had yet been spotted by search aircraft, and officials said they were looking to acquire more satellite imagery to help with the search. They cautioned that multiple searches of the same area may be required.
The area—described by Australia's defense minister as among the most isolated in the world—is regularly battered by high winds, strong currents and changeable weather. Three PC-3 Orion aircraft from Australia and New Zealand, along with a U.S. Poseidon P-8 aircraft, participated in the search Thursday. But it was hampered by thick cloud cover with "poor" visibility, Australian authorities said.
Authorities said weather conditions at the search site were better on Friday, and allowed searchers to conduct visual scans of the area, instead of relying mostly on radar as they had a day earlier.
Aviation experts said that if the debris is found and confirmed to be from the missing plane, authorities will face an even-more daunting task: finding the rest of the wreckage and solving a disappearance that has been one of the biggest mysteries in modern aviation.
"It is going to be a needle in a haystack search," said Admiral Christopher Barrie, a former commander of Australia's military. "These things are not going to be detectable by radar or any other means other than a visual search."
Debris could have drifted over an area of about 39 square miles in the time since the aircraft may have gone down, further complicating the search, said David Griffin, a physical oceanographer specializing in eddies, fronts and currents at Australia's national science agency.
He said that ocean winds in this part of the world will tend to carry debris toward the west or north, while turbulent currents can quickly scatter items. "We don't know what has been found or if this is scattered debris or a single item," Mr. Griffin said. "But certainly items could be going in different directions."
The satellite images were taken on Sunday by DigitalGlobe Inc., DGI -0.06% a U.S. commercial satellite-imaging company, which passed them along to the Australian military's satellite intelligence office. After evaluating them, the office transferred the images to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which set in motion the Indian Ocean search.
Royal Australian Air Force Air Commodore John McGarry attributed the delay to the painstaking process of examining the images frame by frame.
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A massive search has been launched to find two objects spotted on satellite imagery that officials believe could be debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The WSJ's Jeffrey Ng and James Glynn tell us what this means for locating the missing plane.
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"We're using every tool we can," said Andrea Hayward-Maher, spokeswoman for the maritime authority, defending the delay.
On Friday, the five planes were set to resume searching a Minnesota-sized area of the Indian Ocean that is about a 3.5-hour flight from the Australian mainland.
Given the distance, the aircraft are able to remain in flight over the area only for about 2 hours as they fly back and forth over the ocean—like mowing a lawn—with a crew of 13, including six airborne electronics and search officers.