MADIERA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - The search for two NFL players and a
third man missing in the Gulf of Mexico was scaled back Thursday,
but charter boat operators said they still hoped to recover their
Charter captains planned to keep an eye out when they take
customers out to fish, but there wasn't the dedicated effort of
Wednesday, when around a dozen boats combed the Gulf off Florida
for signs of the missing men.
"At this point it appears to be a recovery effort, and where
that would be, is pretty much a needle in a haystack," said Marti
Heath, a charter captain who operates out of John's Pass near St.
Petersburg. "So what we're trying to do is have the people out
there so at least there can be some closure" for the families.
The Coast Guard called off its search Tuesday for Oakland
Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper, free-agent NFL defensive lineman
Corey Smith, who played for the Detroit Lions last season, and
former South Florida player William Bleakley.
The friends have been missing since their boat overturned while
they were on a fishing trip Saturday in rough seas. A fourth man,
Nick Schuyler, was rescued by the Coast Guard Monday.
Cooper's family and friends, holding out hope that he is still
alive, spearheaded the private effort.
Heath, a board member of the Merchant Marine Captains
Association, which is organizing much of the private search, said
charter captains were changing their fishing locations so they'll
be in areas of the Gulf where they are more likely to find some
sign of the men. And they're still in touch with the families.
Another captain, Dane Karcher, said his charter company's four
vessels would be making 12 fishing trips to the area through the
"We're keeping our eyes open," he said.
On Wednesday, Cooper's 21-foot boat was located and towed in
with little visible damage.
The men left Clearwater Pass in calm weather, but heavy winds
picked up through the day and the seas got rough, with waves
peaking at 15 feet. A relative alerted the Coast Guard early Sunday
after the men did not return as expected.
Schuyler, 24, is in good condition and continues to recover at a
Tampa hospital. A doctor said it was a miracle that he survived
being in the 63-degree Gulf water for around 46 hours before he was
rescued, 35 miles off Clearwater.