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PERTH, Australia (AP) — Search planes scoured a remote patch of the Indian Ocean but came back empty-handed Friday after a 10-hour mission looking for any sign of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, another disappointing day in one of the world's biggest aviation mysteries.

Australian officials pledged to continue the search for two large objects spotted by a satellite earlier this week, which had raised hopes that the two-week hunt for the Boeing 777 that disappeared March 8 with 239 people on board was nearing a breakthrough.

But Australia's acting prime minister, Warren Truss, tamped down expectations.

"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."

In Kuala Lumpur, where the plane took off for Beijing, the country's defense minister thanked more than two dozen countries involved in the search that is stretching from Kazakhstan in Central Asia to the southern Indian Ocean, and said the focus remains on finding the airplane.

"This going to be a long haul," Hishammuddin Hussein told a news conference.

The search area indicated by the satellite images — some 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth — is so remote it takes aircraft four hours to fly there and four hours back, leaving them with only enough fuel to search for about two hours.

On Friday, five planes, including three P-3 Orions, made the trip. While search conditions had improved from Thursday, with much better visibility, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said there were no sightings of plane debris.

Two Chinese aircraft are expected to arrive in Perth on Saturday to join the search, and two Japanese aircraft will be arriving Sunday, Truss said. A small flotilla of ships coming to Australia from China was still several days away.

"We are doing all that we can, devoting all the resources we can and we will not give up until all of the options have been exhausted," said Truss, who is acting prime minister while Tony Abbott is in Papua New Guinea.

Experts say it is impossible to tell if the grainy satellite images of the two objects — one 24 meters (almost 80 feet) long and the other measuring 5 meters (15 feet) — were debris from the plane. But officials have called this the best lead so far in the search that began March 8 after the plane vanished over the Gulf of Thailand on an overnight flight to Beijing.

For relatives of the people aboard the plane — 154 of the 227 passengers are Chinese — hope was slipping away, said Nan Jinyan, sister-in-law of passenger Yan Ling.

"I'm psychologically prepared for the worst and I know the chances of them coming back alive are extremely small," said Nan, one of dozens of relatives gathered at a Beijing hotel awaiting any word about their loved ones.

Abbott spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he described as "devastated."

"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 Norwegian cargo vessel Hoegh St. Petersburg is also in the area helping with the search. The ship, which transports cars, was on its way from South Africa to Australia.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said another commercial ship was also in the area and an Australian navy vessel was en route, and AMSA officials also were checking to see if there was any new satellite imagery that could provide searchers with more information.

Pieces of an aircraft have been found floating for days after a crash into the ocean. Peter Marosszeky, an aviation expert at the University of New South Wales, said the plane's wing could remain buoyant for weeks if the fuel tanks inside were empty and had not filled up with water.

Other experts said that if the aircraft breaks into pieces, normally only items such as seats and luggage would remain floating.

"We seldom see big metal (pieces) floating. You need a lot of (buoyant) material underneath the metal to keep it up," said Lau Kin-tak, an expert in aircraft maintenance and accidents at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

The anguished relatives of passengers met Friday with Malaysian officials at the Beijing hotel. Attendees said they had a two-hour briefing about the search but that nothing new was said.

Wang Zhen, son of missing artist Wang Linshi, said there were questions about why Malaysian authorities had provided so much seemingly contradictory information.

Wang said he still has hopes his father can be found alive and is praying that the satellite sightings turn out to be false. He said he and other relatives are suspicious about what they are being told by the Malaysian side, but are at a loss as to what to do next.

"We feel they're hiding something from us," said Wang, who is filling his days attending briefings and watching the news for updates.

Malaysian authorities have not ruled out any possible explanation for what happened to the jet, but have said the evidence so far suggests it was deliberately turned back across Malaysia to the Strait of Malacca, with its communications systems disabled. They are unsure what happened next.

Police are considering the possibilities of hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or anyone else on board.

___

Gelineau reported from Sydney, Australia. Associated Press writers Todd Pitman and Scott McDonald in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand; Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong; and Christopher Bodeen and Isolda Morillo in Beijing contributed to this report.

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LOS ANGELES (AP) -- On the first day of spring, there's some bad news for the weather-weary nation.

Dry conditions that have gripped California and the Southwest will continue with little relief. Government forecasters say if the drought persists, it'll likely lead to a busy wildfire season.

Much of the country remains in a deep freeze, delaying the risk of spring flooding into April in the upper Midwest to New England.

While major flooding is not expected, experts say there's a moderate risk of flooding in the southern Great Lakes region because of above-average snowpack.

Below-normal temperatures are expected this spring across the northern U.S. while it's likely to be warmer than usual along the West Coast and across the southern portion of the country.

The federal government released its annual spring outlook Thursday.

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FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — An Army general who carried on a three-year affair with a captain and had two other inappropriate relationships with subordinates was reprimanded and docked $20,000 in pay Thursday, avoiding jail time in one of the military's most closely watched courts-martial.

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, the former deputy commander of the storied 82nd Airborne Division, was believed to be the highest-ranking U.S. military officer ever court-martialed on sexual assault charges. But earlier this week those charges were dropped when he pleaded guilty to inappropriate relationships by asking the women for nude pictures and exchanging sexually explicit email with them.

Sinclair, 51, smiled and hugged his two lawyers in the courtroom. Outside the building, he made a brief statement.

"The system worked. I've always been proud of my Army," said Sinclair, whose attorney said he plans to retire. "All I want to do now is go north and hug my kids and my wife."

The case unfolded with the Pentagon under heavy pressure to confront what it has called an epidemic of rape and other sexual misconduct in the ranks.

As part of the plea deal, Sinclair's sentence could not exceed terms in a sealed agreement between defense lawyers and military attorneys. The agreement, unsealed Thursday, called for Sinclair to serve no more than 18 months in jail, but Col. James Pohl's punishment was much lighter.

The judge did not explain specifically how he came to the sentence and prosecutors did not immediately comment. Capt. Cassie L. Fowler, the military lawyer assigned to represent the accuser's interests, had a grim expression after the sentence was imposed and declined to comment.

Sinclair's fine breaks down to $5,000 a month for four months. He earns about $12,000 a month, according to testimony earlier in the week.

Retired Lt. Col. Gary D. Solis, who teaches law at West Point and Georgetown University, called Pohl's ruling lenient.

"I can't believe it," said Solis, who served 26 years of active duty in the Marine Corps and tried hundreds of cases as a military judge. "I know Judge Pohl to be one of the best judges in the Army judicial system, but ... this is an individual who should not be a general officer. He should have gone to jail and dismissed from the Army."

Sinclair will now go before Fort Bragg commander Maj. Gen. Clarence K.K. Chinn, who approved Sinclair's plea deal, and he'll get either a verbal or written reprimand. Then he'll appear before a board to determine whether he will lose any rank, which could cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits.

The defense calculated that if Sinclair were allowed to retire and be demoted by two ranks, he would lose $831,000 in retirement benefits by age 82.

In closing arguments, prosecutors argued Sinclair should be thrown out of the Army and lose his military benefits, while the defense said that would harm his innocent wife and children the most. Prosecutors did not ask the judge to send Sinclair to jail, even though the maximum penalty he faced on the charges to which he pleaded guilty was more than 20 years.

The judge could have dismissed Sinclair from the Army, which would have likely wiped out his Veterans Administration health care and military retirement benefits.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys offered contrasting arguments about the seriousness of the misdeeds that felled the general.

"It's not just one mistake. Not just one lapse in judgment. It was repeated," prosecutor Maj. Rebecca DiMuro said. "They are not mistakes. We are not in the court of criminal mistakes. These are crimes."

The general also pleaded guilty to adultery and using his government-issued credit card to pay for trips to see his mistress and other conduct unbecoming an officer.

In the charges that were dropped as part of the plea deal, Sinclair had been accused of twice forcing the female captain to perform oral sex during their affair.

The Army's case against Sinclair started to crumble as questions arose about his primary accuser's credibility and whether military officials improperly rejected a previous plea deal because of political concerns.

A military lawyer representing Sinclair argued that his wife, Rebecca, had made a significant investment in the Army by holding leadership positions in organizations that helped soldiers' families. Maj. Sean Foster said Rebecca Sinclair and the couple's two sons would be hurt the most if the general lost benefits.

Sinclair's wife hasn't been present during the court proceedings and was not there Thursday.

When a letter from his wife was read aloud, Sinclair buried his head in his hands, appeared to cry and dabbed his eyes with tissues.

In the letter, Rebecca Sinclair said she hasn't fully forgiven her husband but that she didn't want the Army to punish him and his family further with a significant reduction to his pension and other benefits.

"Believe me when I tell you that the public humiliation and vilification he has endured are nothing compared to the private suffering and guilt that he lives with every day," she wrote.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., called the case a strong argument for her recent unsuccessful effort to strip commanders of the authority to prosecute cases and give that power to seasoned military lawyers.

"This case has illustrated a military justice system in dire need of independence from the chain of command," Gillibrand said in a statement. "It's not only the right thing to do for our men and women in uniform, but would also mitigate issues of undue command influence that we have seen in many trials over the last year."

Gillibrand is expected to renew her effort to change military law this spring when the Senate begins work on a defense policy bill.

___

Biesecker reported from Raleigh, N.C.

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