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Missing Flight 370: Australia Ship Days Away From Possible Debris

Five military planes, a navy ship and a commercial vessel were involved in a time-consuming hunt for the debris seen off Australia.
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It will likely be days before ships can recover potential debris from the isolated waters where possible objects were spotted by an Australian satellite, officials said early Thursday.

Investigators face a race against time to find the "black boxes" from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 before batteries powering the "pings" from their transponders run out in approximately 19 days’ time.

Five military aircraft - including a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon - battled low cloud, bad weather and poor visibility Thursday as they scoured the inhospitable ocean zone where the objects were seen.

The air search was finally suspended when darkness fell across the area at about 8 a.m. ET and isn't due to resume until 3 p.m. ET.

One of the five aircraft - an Australian P-3 Orion - flew as low as 100 feet above the southern Indian Ocean surface but none of the planes found any sign of the debris.

"Time is the enemy in this situation"

The new area of interest is about 1,400 miles - and four hours' flying time - southwest of Perth, Australia, limiting the amount of time that aircraft can search the waters before returning to refuel. That distance is farther than a trip between New York and Oklahoma City.

“Time is the enemy in this situation,” former American Airlines pilot Tom Casey told MSNBC.

A Royal Australian Navy ship, HMAS Success, is heading to the area but is “some days away,” the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said.

A Norwegian cargo ship responding to an appeal diverted from its course and arrived in the search area.

An Australian air force C-130 Hercules aircraft was tasked with dropping marker buoys to mark the search area and provide information about how oceans currents had affected any drifting debris.

If debris from the plane is found, the HMAS Success would recover the objects from the water.

Image: A diagram showing the search area for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean
A diagram showing the search area for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean.Sean Davey / Reuters

However, one expert told NBC News that only a handful of submersible vehicles worldwide would be capable of traveling to the bottom of that part of the Indian Ocean.

“The most likely scenario is that an aircraft would find the object and then report back an accurate GPS position and AMSA would task the ship to proceed to the area,” John Young, the general manager of AMSA's Emergency Response Division told reporters.