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Objects spotted by a satellite may have “slipped to the bottom” of the sea, Australia’s deputy prime minister said Friday as the first of five planes searching the southern Indian Ocean returned empty-handed.

A Royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion aircraft returned to its base for refueling shortly after 4 a.m. ET after failing to spot any sign of the potential debris.

A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft was among the five planes involved in searching area, which is about 1,400 miles - and four hours' flying time - southwest of Perth, Australia.

"Something that was floating on the sea that long ago may no longer be floating," Warren Truss told reporters.

RAAF Flight Lieutenant Russell Adams said visibility in the search zone was better than on Thursday, when low cloud had obscured the view, but that high winds had further reduced the amount of time the Orion could stay airborne.

He said he was hopeful of “a good outcome” because of the number of ships and planes in the search area.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

- Alastair Jamieson