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Prince William joins Irish Sea rescue mission

Prince William at the controls of a Sea King helicopter during a training exercise at Holyhead Mountain, having flown from RAF Valley in Anglesey, north Wales, on Thursday, March 31, 2011. Getty

(CBS/AP) LONDON - Prince William took part in the rescue of Russian sailors whose cargo ship sank in the Irish Sea early Sunday.

The prince, known as Flight Lt. William Wales in Britain's Royal Air Force, co-piloted a helicopter which rescued two crew members after their vessel's hull cracked in gale force winds off the coast of north Wales, Britain's defense ministry said. The men were airlifted to William's RAF Valley base, on the Welsh island of Anglesey.

Authorities said five people remain missing after the Cook Islands-registered Swanland cargo ship, which had eight people on board and was carrying thousands of tons of limestone, sent a mayday call. The ship's crew sent out the distress call at about 2:00 a.m. GMT, according to BBC News.

The Russian ambassador to the U.K. thanked the Duke of Cambridge, 29, for joining the rescue mission.

"All day long we were anxiously following the rescue operation searching for Russian seamen from the sunk Swanland vessel," Alexander Yavovenko wrote in a letter published on the embassy's website. "We know that you took an active part in the rescue and the two seamen were saved thanks to your selfless effort under the bad weather conditions. Let me express to you and your colleagues my deepest gratitude for saving the lives of the Russian citizens."

Holyhead Coastguard said one body had been recovered from the sea, but that the fate of the other five 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.

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