Search Continues for Three Men Lost Out at Sea

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

The Coast Guard on Monday narrowed the search area for two NFL players and a third man missing since a weekend fishing trip off the Florida Gulf Coast after crews rescued a fourth man clinging to their capsized boat.

Survivor Nick Schuyler, a former University of South Florida
player, told rescuers that the boat the four good friends were
aboard was anchored when it flipped Saturday evening in rough seas,
said Coast Guard Capt. Timothy M. Close. Schuyler, who was wearing
a life vest, had been hanging onto the hull that a Coast Guard
cutter discovered 35 miles off Clearwater.

The 21-foot boat belongs to Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis
Cooper, who, along with free-agent defensive lineman Corey Smith
and former South Florida player William Bleakley, were missing.

The Coast Guard wouldn't speculate on the men's chances of
survival, but Petty Officer Robert Simpson said their size and good
health were advantages. Cooper, 26, is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, and
the 29-year-old Smith is 6-foot-2, 250 pounds. The 25-year-old
Bleakley had played tight end.

"With all of these men being past, present football players,
they do have a much larger physique than a lot of people," he
said. "So their odds are going to be definitely in their favor."

Their families have said they had life vests and flares aboard.

Schuyler was conscious but appeared weak as he was being taken
off a helicopter at Tampa General Hospital and placed on a
stretcher. His father said his son was in serious but stable
condition and that he "looks OK."

"He's got some cuts and bruises. He's dehydrated," said Stuart
Schuyler.

Schuyler's mother, Marsha Schuyler, said her son told her that
he survived by thinking about how he didn't want her to go to his
funeral.

The family's joy at him being found alive was tempered by the
search for his friends.

"We still have three men missing, and we're not going to talk
too much until we find these guys," said his father, Stuart
Schuyler. "We're all praying for them. These guys are all very
close friends."

Searchers had previously covered 16,000 square miles of ocean
but the area being searched was much smaller since they found
Schuyler, Close said.

Smith's family planned to drive to Florida from Richmond, Va.,
Tuesday, after the snowy weather in the East made getting a flight
impossible, said Yolanda Newbill, one of Smith's sisters. She said
they have been in contact with the Coast Guard every few hours
since the search began.

"We have never lost hope," Newbill said. "We have total faith
that (he) will be coming home."

Ray Sanchez of Tampa, a cousin of Cooper, said the family was
confident the Coast Guard would find them.

"My cousin's a powerful swimmer," he said.

Bruce Cooper, the father of Marquis Cooper who is also a
prominent sportscaster for KPNX-TV in Phoenix, said in a statement
Monday that the family has been overwhelmed with calls, e-mails and
text messages from well-wishers.

"We remain hopeful that Marquis will be found and returned to
us," Cooper said.

James Allen, a marine safety consultant who once worked search
and rescue operations with the Coast Guard, said the chances of
finding survivors diminish after people have been in the water
three days.

Survivors have been found who were floating for days, but he
added "you just can't swim forever."

After 18 hours in 64-degree water, hypothermia will set in,
Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class James Harless said.

The four men left Clearwater Pass early Saturday in calm
weather, but heavy winds picked up through the day and the seas got
heavy, with waves of 7 feet and higher, peaking at 15 feet on
Sunday. A relative alerted the Coast Guard early Sunday after the
men did not return as expected. The Coast Guard said it did not
receive a distress signal.

The men were aboard an Everglades-manufactured boat, which is
built with compressed foam encased in Fiberglas, making it
difficult to sink. The weather had improved, with waves subsiding
to 6 to 8 feet, National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Barron
said.

However, Bob Zales, president of National Association of Charter
Boat Operators, said waves that high can capsize a boat the size of
Cooper's.

"A boat that size, personally, I wouldn't get out any farther
than 20 or 30 miles offshore," Zales said. "But I see people all
the time 40, 50 miles offshore."

Smith of Richmond, had 30 tackles, including three sacks, and an
interception in 12 games last season for the Detroit Lions. He also
played for the San Francisco 49ers and was a standout at North
Carolina State.

Cooper, 26, played college ball at Washington, and has spent
five seasons with five different teams, appearing in 26 games with
the Buccaneers in 2004 and 2005. He's played sparingly since. He
grew up in Gilbert, Ariz.

The Raiders and Lions said in separate statements that the teams
hope the men will be rescued and that their thoughts and prayers go
out to their families.


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