- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2011

ANGLESEY, WALES (AP) - Dense fog curled around the snowcapped Welsh mountains and fierce winds rattled the cockpit of the military rescue helicopter. At the controls, plotting a daring path to a stranded heart attack victim, was a newly engaged air force co-pilot.

Prince William _ or Flight Lt. Wales, as he is known to his Royal Air Force colleagues _ guided his Sea King aircraft through the gloom, swooping low so hiker Greg Watkins could be winched from the hillside and raced to a hospital.

The mission last November _ two days after the prince and Kate Middleton announced plans to marry _ is typical of the often-risky rescues performed by the king-to-be in his unlikely day job: patrolling Britain’s coast with a military search squadron.

“The weather was particularly severe on that particular day, with the visibility reduced down to the ground. The crew was looking to Flight Lt. Wales _ to William _ to navigate us up the side of the mountain,” said Sgt. Keith Best, a paramedic and winchman on William’s team.

“Time really was critical, and he did his job impeccably well,” said Best. “The guy is still alive because of the efforts of Flight Lt. Wales.”

Britain’s monarchy has an enduring connection to the armed forces _ William is part of the fourth successive generation to have served as a pilot. His grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, is the military’s ceremonial chief and joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service during World War II, reaching the rank of junior commander and training as a driver.

Yet the reality of modern conflicts _ complete with battlefield kidnappings documented in grisly Internet videos _ means that William’s ambitions of serving on the frontline will almost certainly be unfulfilled.

The 28-year-old has repeatedly aired his frustration that military chiefs have barred him from serving in Afghanistan, dismissing as “hyped up” the belief that _ as a future king _ he would be a prime target for insurgents.

“It’s just a pity I didn’t get to Afghanistan,” William said last year. “I still have hope and faith and a real determination to go out there.”

The last monarch to eyeball the enemy in conflict was his great-grandfather King George VI, who fought in the Battle of Jutland during World War I. George, however, was not destined for the throne, only later thrust into the role following his elder brother Edward’s abdication.

“While Prince William, I know, would love to have had the opportunity to serve in Afghanistan, there is no doubt that there are risks that surface out there,” Gen. David Richards, the head of the British military, said at the time.

Though Prince William did make a brief stop in 2008 at an air base in Kandahar, it is younger brother Prince Harry, third in line to the throne, who has joined British personnel in clashes against the Taliban.

Harry served a 10-week tour in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province as a battlefield air controller, but was abruptly removed in February 2008 after a media blackout was breached and the prince’s safety was judged to be in jeopardy. A year earlier, Harry had abandoned plans to fight in Iraq after British intelligence learned of threats by militants to kill him.

While Harry is expected to return to Afghanistan later this year _ this time at the controls of an Apache attack helicopter, William will be guiding rescue sorties from RAF Valley, his base in a remote corner of northern Wales.

“It’s great to get to go out to save somebody’s life hopefully, or at least make a difference to someone,” William said earlier this month as he showed the queen around the station on the island of Anglesey.

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