Boater found, NFL players still missing off Florida, guard says

Boater Nick Schuyler, identified by WFLA, is seen here on a stretcher Monday after his rescue.
One of four boaters who went missing off the Florida coast Saturday has been found, according to the Coast Guard. Three others, including two NFL players, are still missing.

An overturned vessel was discovered Monday afternoon with former University of South Florida football player Nick Schuyler clinging to it, according to Coast Guard Petty Officer James Harless. Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper and NFL free agent Corey Smith, who played for the Detroit Lions for the past three seasons, have not returned from a fishing trip Saturday in water off Clearwater, family members and colleagues said Sunday. A wave flipped the boat over during a storm Saturday evening and he and his friends held onto the boat’s hull, Schuyler told authorities, Coast Guard Petty Officer Robert Simpson told CNN. Simpson said officials will wait until he is treated for hypothermia before talking with him again. Video shot by CNN affiliates showed Schuyler being removed from a Coast Guard helicopter Monday afternoon. He appeared to be talking. The search, which began early Sunday, now involves three Coast Guardcutters, three C-130 Hercules airplanes and three helicopters combing 16,000 square miles of open water in the Gulf of Mexico, about 50 miles west of Clearwater Pass, according to a Coast Guard statement. The search area Sunday was just 750 square miles. The Air Force Reserve’s 920th Rescue Wing, based at Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, sent a C-130 airplane and a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter to join the effort Monday, the Air Force said. Rough seas and high winds that hampered the search Sunday continued Monday. The Coast Guard reported winds of 15 to 20 knots and waves up to 9 feet in the search area Monday.

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“It feels like my greatest fear coming true — it doesn’t feel real,” Cooper’s wife, Rebekah, told CNN affiliate WTSP in Tampa on Sunday afternoon. “I’m just waiting for a phone call.” Watch relatives, friends express concern for missing boaters ┬╗ Cooper said she became worried Saturday night when she didn’t hear from her husband who, along with his friends, had left on the trip in the early morning hours. She called her husband’s fishing buddy, Brian Miller, who contacted the Coast Guard with the coordinates of where the men planned to fish. “Usually I’m on the boat. It’s a little difficult wondering if something would have been different if I had been there,” Miller said. “Or who knows They may be just sitting out there with a broken motor — and that’s what we’re hoping for.” He said it was clear something was wrong when Cooper didn’t call Saturday night. “He should’ve been within range to use his cell phone, and he knows enough to shut it off when he goes out so the batteries are still there,” he said. The four men — Cooper, Smith, Schuyler and William Bleakley — embarked in a 21-foot single-engine boat from the Seminole Boat Ramp about 6:30 a.m. Saturday, the Coast Guard said. “Yesterday the weather conditions were relatively good, but the weather picked up overnight,” Coast Guard Capt. Tim Close told reporters Sunday afternoon. “It’s a small vessel for the conditions that are out there right now.” Rebekah Cooper said her husband was aware of Sunday’s weather forecast and for that reason picked Saturday for the trip. “Fishing is his first love, it always has been,” she said, adding, “I have a lot of faith in him out there.” Cooper’s father said he learned of the situation Sunday morning from Rebekah. His son “routinely stays out on the water 12-14 hours,” Bruce Cooper, a sports anchor for CNN affiliate KPNX in Phoenix, Arizona, said in a written statement. Close said authorities had not received a distress signal from the boaters. He said Cooper owns the boat. Bruce Cooper called his son an “avid fisherman.” “He goes deep-sea fishing any opportunity he gets,” Cooper said in the statement. “Two years ago I went deep-sea fishing with him. I swore I would never do so again; I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t see land. Needless to say I am very concerned. I am praying and hoping for the best.” This particular boat, a center-console vessel manufactured by Everglades Boats, is billed as “unsinkable,” Close added. The Detroit Lions released a statement acknowledging that Smith was among the missing men, adding, “Our thoughts and prayers are with all the passengers, their families and all those involved in the search efforts.” Smith and Cooper were teammates with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for part of the 2004 season, when Cooper was a rookie, according to the NFL’s Web site. Smith, who entered the league with Tampa Bay in 2002, went on to play for the Washington Redskins before moving to the Lions for the 2006 season. Cooper has played for six teams in his five-season career. Bleakley lettered from 2004 to 2006 as a tight end for USF, and Schuyler was a walk-on defensive end in 2006, but he never played in a game, according to a spokesman for the university’s athletics department.

Schuyler’s father, Stu, told reporters that the four men knew each other from working out at a gym, and that his son had accompanied Cooper and Smith on a fishing trip last week that lasted 15 hours. The Coast Guard asked anyone with information on the boaters to contact its St. Petersburg, Florida, office at 727-824-7506