Coast Guard: Missing men had life vests
Posted March 3, 2009 3:28 a.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:13 p.m. EDT
CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Coast Guard says four men, including two NFL players, put on their life vests after their boat overturned in the Gulf of Mexico.
The ocean search for Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper, free-agent defensive lineman Corey Smith, a former member of the N.C. State Wolfpack, and former University of South Florida player William Bleakley entered its third day Tuesday.
Capt. Timothy Close says the lone man rescued so far, Nick Schuyler, told interviewers that the boat capsized as the four friends were pulling up the anchor Saturday evening.
They swam under the boat and were able to recover their life vests.
They stayed together for some time and it remains unclear when and how they got separated.
The Coast Guard rescued Schuyler Monday after they found him clinging to the hull of the boat.
The missing men face dwindling odds of survival after more than two days in the water, though their size and good health could help them fend off hypothermia, authorities said.
Coast Guard officials wouldn't speculate on the men's chances of being rescued alive as the search continued Tuesday morning. There was some hope, even though hypothermia can set in after 18 hours in 64-degree water. Water temperatures were in the mid- to upper-60s.
"With all of these men being past, present football players, they do have a much larger physique than a lot of people," Petty Officer Robert Simpson said. "So their odds are going to be definitely in their favor."
Schuyler was conscious but appeared weak as he was loaded onto a stretcher Monday. His father, Stuart Schuyler, said the former University of South Florida player was bruised and dehydrated but "looks OK." He said his son was in serious but stable condition.
Crews had narrowed their search Monday for Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper, 26, who owned the 21-foot boat; free-agent defensive lineman Corey Smith, 29; and former South Florida player William Bleakley, 25. Cooper is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, and Smith is 6-foot-2, 250 pounds. Bleakley had played tight end.
Nick Schuyler 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.
"He was able to help us refine our search a little bit," Close said on ABC's "Good Morning America" Tuesday. He said Schuyler told them where the boat was anchored and when it capsized.
The men's families have said they had life vests and flares aboard.
Schuyler's mother, Marsha Schuyler, said her son told her 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.
Bruce Cooper, the father of Marquis Cooper who is also a prominent sportscaster for KPNX-TV in Phoenix, told Fox News in a phone interview Tuesday that his family was holding on to hope and optimism. He and other family members were in Tampa awaiting news on the search.
"He's just a fighter. He's an undersize linebacker ... and he just doesn't back down. He accepts the fight, and I know that's what he's doing in the water. He's not quitting," Cooper said about his son.
Smith's family had to drive to Florida from Richmond, Va., after a snow storm 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 total faith that (he) will be coming home," Newbill said.
Newbill told "Good Morning America" that Smith "is one of the good guys, without question."
"He's an ordinary guy who loves football. Very family oriented. Would do anything, literally would give you the shirt off his back," Newbill said on the ABC program.
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."
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 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.
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.