The Coast Guard is searching off Florida's Gulf Coast for a fishing boat carrying NFL players Corey Smith and Marquis Cooper and two other men missing nearly a day in choppy seas.
Smith and Cooper were on a 21-foot vessel that left Clearwater
Pass for a fishing trip Saturday morning and did not return as
expected, according to the Coast Guard. Crews are using a
helicopter and a 47-foot boat to search a 750-square mile area west
of Clearwater Pass, but poor weather is making the search
difficult. Officials did not receive a distress signal from the
Cooper owns the boat and he and Smith have been on fishing trips
before, according to Smith's agent. The pair were teammates with
the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2004.
Former University of South Florida players Will Bleakley and
Nick Schuyler have been identified as the other two men aboard.
Coast Guard Capt. Timothy M. Close said the weather early
Saturday had been fair, but worsened toward the evening as a front
still battering the area moved in. The National Weather Service
said seas were about 2 to 4 feet Saturday morning and increased to
3 to 5 feet in the afternoon. Late Saturday night, a small craft
advisory was issued, when winds were around 20 knots and seas were up to 7 feet or more. There were no thunderstorms in the area.
Close said the men were traveling in a boat manufactured by
Everglades. At least one of the men was an experienced boater, and
relatives provided the Coast Guard with GPS coordinates from
previous fishing expeditions.
Close said there was no communication with the men even before
the weather started to pick up. They were expected home by early
evening. No sign of them or the boat had been spotted by late
Poor weather conditions could be dangerous for a boat the size
"A 21-foot boat is a relatively small vessel to be 50 miles off
shore in bad weather conditions, certainly the current weather
conditions," Close said.
The Coast Guard search was mainly taking place by air, and was
hampered by the poor weather, Close said. He said there were
14-foot seas offshore and wind gusts of up to 30 mph. Water depth
in the area where they are searching ranges from 20 to 50 feet.
Close said there was no sign yet that the men sent a distress
"That's not to say they didn't send one out," he said. "We
didn't receive anything."
Smith, 29, had 30 tackles, including three sacks, and an
interception in 12 games last season for the winless Lions. Smith,
who is 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, also played for the San Francisco
49ers and played college ball at North Carolina State. He lives in
Del Duca called Smith one of the "good guys" of the league and
was planning to start visiting teams as a free agent this week. He
said he has spoken with Smith's family and is also in touch with
Coast Guard officials.
"They've assured me that they're deploying all available
resources to look for these guys and get them back," he said.
Cooper, 26, has played five seasons with the Buccaneers,
Seahawks, Jaguars, Steelers and Raiders. He appeared in 26 games
with the Buccaneers in 2004 and 2005, recording 30 tackles. He has
played sparingly since as he has bounced between teams, appearing
in 13 games and recording 10 tackles. Cooper, who is 6-foot-3, 230
pounds, played college ball at Washington. His hometown is Mesa,
Ariz., and his father Bruce is a prominent sportscaster for KPNX-TV
Cooper told The Seattle Times in 2002 that one reason he chose
Washington was the abundant fishing.
"I like fighting the fish," Cooper told the newspaper. "And
just relaxing out there and being alone and being outside."
Lions spokesman Bill Keenist and Raiders senior executive John
Hererra said the teams are monitoring reports.
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