Rescuers seeking three missing boaters, including two NFL players, continued their search through the night and into early Tuesday off Florida’s Gulf Coast.
With 2,000 square miles of water to search, the hope was the three were still alive despite having been dumped into the sea during a storm. The search had passed its 48th hour. A fourth boater, former University of South Florida football player Nick Schuyler, had been found clinging to their small overturned fishing boat Monday afternoon. He was found about 39 miles west of Egmont Key, Florida, sitting atop the overturned 21-foot boat with a life jacket on. Schuyler told his Coast Guard rescuers that their boat was anchored Saturday evening when it was overturned by waves, said Capt. Timothy M. Close, Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg commander. Schuyler told them that all four men clung to the boat for a time, but became separated, Close said. Rescuers flew a C-130 plane, and sent out three boats and two helicopters equipped with thermal imaging technology in the hopes of finding the missing men. The seas had calmed a little bit which may help the rescues effort, a Coast Guard spokesman told CNN. Still missing early Tuesday were Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper and NFL free agent Corey Smith, who played for the Detroit Lions for the past three seasons. Also missing was William Bleakley, a former University of South Florida football player. Based on what Schuyler told the Coast Guard, they were able to narrow the search from 16,000 square miles. Watch Schuyler being moved on stretcher » Schuyler last saw his three friends at 2 a.m. Monday, his father told CNN affiliate WTSP in Tampa on Monday afternoon. The three were wearing life vests. See photos of rescue » Early Tuesday, the Coast Guard search involved three cutters and an aircraft, said Petty Officer Sondra-Kay Kneen of the Coast Guard. By daybreak, search craft were to be switched out and were to include two helicopters, she said.
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The four boaters had embarked in the single-engine boat from the Seminole Boat Ramp near Clearwater Pass about 6:30 a.m. Saturday, the Coast Guard said. The search was launched early Sunday after friends and relatives realized they had not returned from fishing. On Monday afternoon, Schuyler appeared to be conscious and talking in video showing him being removed from a Coast Guard helicopter. While he was initially able to answer a few questions to help with the search, officials decided to wait until he was treated for hypothermia before talking with him again, Coast Guard Petty Officer Robert Simpson said. On Monday evening, Schuyler was in serious condition at Tampa General Hospital. Cooper was aware of Sunday’s weather forecast and for that reason picked Saturday for the trip, his wife, Rebekah, told WTSP on Sunday afternoon. “Fishing is his first love, it always has been,” she said, adding, “I have a lot of faith in him out there.” Watch relatives, friends express concern for missing boaters » 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 the University of South Florida, 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.