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Royal rescue mission: Prince William helps save 2 after ship sinks in Irish Sea

Prince William joined a frantic rescue mission Sunday after a cargo ship sank in the Irish Sea, leaving several crew members missing.
/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

Prince William joined a frantic rescue mission Sunday after a cargo ship sank in the Irish Sea, leaving several crew members missing.

The second in line to the British throne, who is a Royal Air Force helicopter pilot and known professionally as Flight Lt. William Wales, was aboard an aircraft which rescued two crew members early on Sunday, after their vessel suffered a cracked hull in gale-force winds off the coast of north Wales.

Britain's ministry of defense said William had been co-pilot of the helicopter, which carried two people back to his base RAF Valley, on the Welsh island of Anglesey.

Authorities said five people remained missing after the 265-foot Swanland cargo ship, which had eight people on board, sent a mayday call at around 2 a.m. local time (9 p.m. ET).

'Challenging' conditions
Holyhead Coastguard said one body had been recovered from the sea, but that the fate of the other crew members was not yet known.

"We know that at least some of them are wearing immersion suits and have strobe lighting with them, however sea conditions are challenging at best," said Jim Green, a coastguard spokesman.

The Swanland was reportedly carrying 3,000 tons of limestone. Its crew members were believed to be Russian.

Rescue helicopters from RAF Valley and from Dublin coastguard base in Ireland were initially sent to the scene, about 20 miles  northwest of the Llyn peninsula in north Wales.

Helicopters from RAF Chivenor, in southwest England, and the Irish Coastguard are continuing to search for the missing crew, along with boats from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

"Two RNLI lifeboats, along with four search and rescue helicopters and two other commercial boats, are searching for the remaining six crew," the RNLI said in a statement.

Gale force winds battered the Irish Sea on Sunday and the coastguard said it is believed the poor condition could have caused the incident.