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Prince William plays key role in RAF SAR rescue

December 1, 2011  By BBC News

Dec. 1, 2011, Gwynedd, U.K. - Two Russian seamen rescued after their ship sank off the Gwynedd coast have thanked their rescuers.

Roman Savin, 26, and Vitaliy Karpenko, 48, were airlifted to safety by an RAF helicopter co-piloted by the Duke of Cambridge in the early hours of Sunday.

They told BBC Wales they were picked up after being swept off the deck as the MV Swanland broke up in high seas.

"I sincerely thank them because I understand how dangerous it was," said Mr Savin.

The cargo vessel sank in the Irish Sea off the Lleyn peninsula after being hit by an "enormous wave".


The body of an eighth crew member has already been recovered but a second day of extensive air and sea searches for five missing  Russian sailors was unsuccessful, officials said on Monday.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said the search would continue until dusk.

The two survivors were airlifted to safety by an RAF helicopter co-piloted by the Duke of Cambridge.

They described how they decided to abandon ship and managed to scramble into a life raft.

"On one hand we hoped that there would be salvation," said Mr Savin, speaking through an interpreter.

"On the other hand it was getting quite scary.

"We thought that we would be drifted away and would probably hit the rocks and there's no chance of survival.

"And then when we heard the helicopter it was a big relief.

"They are the men who saved our lives."

Able Seaman Karpenko added: "I realised that the ship was just broken so I just realised there was no point saving it so we should actually save ourselves."

Ray Carson of Holyhead Coastguard spoke of the sea conditions at the time of the rescue.

"People think that because the Irish Sea is bounded on either side by land, that it's a glorified pond out there," he said.

"But in honesty from my own days in the merchant navy some of the worst conditions I ever experienced were on that stretch of water."

The missing crew have been named as captain Yury Shmelev, 44, chief engineer Gennadiy Meshkov, 52, second engineer Mikhail Starchevoy, 60, able seaman Sergey Kharchenko, 51, and ship's cook Oleg Andriets, 49.

Chief officer Leonid Safonov, 50, was pronounced dead after his body was recovered from the sea shortly afterwards.

All eight members of the Swanland's company were Russian citizens.

Russia's ambassador to the U.K. Alexander Yakovenko sent a letter to Prince William which thanked the search and rescue teams for their efforts.

Mr Yakovenko said: "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."

The Swanland sank about 10 miles west of the Lleyn peninsula in north Wales.

The RAF Valley search and rescue team was called into action when the cargo ship issued a mayday call at around 02:00 when its hull cracked.

The Duke is understood to have been involved in the operation for several hours.

Meanwhile Elfyn Llwyd, MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, has called for a full inquiry into the loss of the ship.

Mr Llwyd passed on his condolences to the families and friends of those who were lost.

And he declared that the first question for a Board of Trade investigation had to be whether it was reasonable to be out there knowing severe weather was expected.

The Swanland, a regular visitor to the area, was carrying rock that was loaded at the Llanddulas jetty near Abergele and was en route to Cowes, Isle of Wight.

In August 2010, the ship came close to grounding on rocks off the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall after the engines failed.


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