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A U.S. Coast Guard pilot originally from St. Mary’s City rescued three boaters in the Pacific Ocean last month.

Keith Roberts piloted a Coast Guard rescue helicopter with two crew members to save three fishermen whose boat sank Jan. 27 while fishing for hagfish about 20 miles off the coast of Northern California.

The fishing vessel sank within a couple minutes after the crew heard a loud thump, according to an article in the Del Norte Triplicate newspaper. The boat may have hit something in the water, the crew speculated.

The three men onboard were able to eventually get into an inflatable survival boat, where they floated about nine miles toward land before being rescued by Roberts and his crew.

Roberts, 36, grew up in St. Mary’s City. He attended the Lexington Park Christian School, which is now The King’s Christian Academy, and graduated in 1993 from St. Mary’s Ryken High School.

Tom Maday and his family lived next door to Roberts’ parents, Phil and Nancy. Maday said that the families were close, and that both he and Keith’s father had high expectations for the future Coast Guard pilot.

“His father and I used to talk over the driveways,” Maday said.

Though Roberts’ parents are no longer living, Maday said he keeps up with Roberts and his siblings through Christmas cards.

“It’s fun to stay abreast of the kids as they step out of high school” into careers and lives of their own, Maday said.

After earning a degree in mechanical engineering, Roberts spent nine years as a pilot in the Navy before switching to the Coast Guard four years ago. He said he switched service branches in part because of his family.

He was stationed in Savannah, Ga., for a few years before being transferred to his current location at Humboldt Station along Northern California’s coastline.

“We’re basically just a pickup truck. We go and pick them up out of the water and get them back to safety and hand them over to emergency services,” he said.

Roberts said he figures he has rescued 14 people during his time with the Coast Guard.

Roberts credited the emergency dispatch center’s ability last month to narrow down the location of the fishermen’s distress call. The boaters were able to put out a mayday call, but it was not particularly clear what their exact coordinates were, he said.

“I’ve listened to it five times and all I can hear is static,” he said.

The dispatchers were able to narrow down the search area, and from there the rescue relied on the eyes of Roberts and his crew.

The helicopter searched for about 45 minutes to an hour, about half of their available search time. He said there were a lot of dungeness crab pot buoys in the water, but that one particular spot in the open water looked unique.

“We saw something that looked unusual,” Roberts said. The helicopter looped around and began circling what was a survival raft.

“The guys were standing up inside of it waving. They were very happy to see us,” he said.

All three men were rescued about two hours after the initial distress call. They were taken to a nearby hospital once the helicopter returned to shore and were released.

jyeatman@somdnews.com