01:11 - Source: ireport
2010: Close up video captured Gulf Coast rig burning

Story highlights

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, causing the BP oil spill

Michael Roberts was the captain of an offshore supply vessel that got the mayday call and says he'll never forget that night

Roberts first uploaded his video to CNN iReport

CNN —  

An ordinary man became part of an extraordinary event when he grabbed his iPhone at the right time.

On April 20, 2010, Michael Roberts was the captain of an offshore supply vessel off the Gulf Coast when he got the distress call on the radio: There had been an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, four hours away, and rig workers were missing.

When his boat joined the search and rescue team before dawn, thick black smoke was billowing and orange flames were mushrooming into the sky. He would later tell CNN it looked as if the sun was coming over the horizon.

Roberts, who lives in Marietta, Georgia, filmed the catastrophic scene on his phone and quickly went back to fighting the fire. He uploaded the footage to CNN iReport when he reached shore the next day.

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts/CNN iReport
Michael Roberts

Besides spewing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf, the explosion killed 11 men. Some people might forget that – but not Roberts.

“You just never think about the people who lost their lives,” he said this week, five years later. “That’s where the attention needs to lie. Not memorializing them, but just keeping them in mind. That’s generations that just won’t be the same.”

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As a father of two children, witnessing the deadly fire made Roberts question his line of work: What if something happened to him?

Two years after the explosion, Roberts left his job after 15 years of working at sea. He opened up a T-Mobile store, which folded in 2014, and now he’s a truck driver.

“It’s one of those moments in time, no matter how old you get, you’ll never forget it,” he said. “All you can do is go home, hug your kids and wife and give thanks.”