Details of missing NFL players At Sea Paint Horrifying Scene

Published on March 17, 2009 by     


TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – Two NFL players may have died just a few hours after their fishing boat capsized in rough seas and possibly before rescuers were even alerted that they and two others were lost off the west coast of Florida, according to Coast Guard records.

The lone survivor, Nick Schuyler, told the Coast Guard that one by one, the other three men took off their life vests and disappeared during the ordeal that began the evening of Feb. 28, according to a 23-page report provided to The Associated Press Monday under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Coast Guard report, which redacts the men’s names, says the group went roughly 70 miles – or 62 nautical miles – to fish for amberjack. Besides the 24-year-old Schuyler, also aboard the 21-foot Everglades boat were Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper, free-agent NFL defensive lineman Corey Smith, who played for the Detroit Lions last season, and former University of South Florida player William Bleakley. The bodies of Cooper, Smith and Bleakley have not been recovered.

Around 5:30 p.m., the report said the group ran into trouble: Their anchor was stuck. Schuyler told investigators that he believed it was caught in a coral reef and they tried to free it, but water filled the boat and it capsized.


Tossed into the frigid water, the men managed to grab their life vests. Schuyler, also a former South Florida player, said they held on to the boat for four hours. But as the night wore on, their will to survive appears to have weakened and the effects of hypothermia were likely setting in.

Schuyler told the Coast Guard that one of the men “freaked out” and took off his life vest and disappeared that night.

Another started getting unruly, throwing punches and later took off his life jacket, dove under the water and was never seen again. The third man thought he saw land nearly two days after the boat capsized and decided to swim for it.

That man said his life jacket was too tight and he took it off, Schuyler told the Coast Guard.

Officials have said they found three life jackets: one on Schuyler, another near the boat and a third underneath.

It’s unclear how accurate the account is. Schuyler, who was found clinging to the overturned boat about 35 miles off Clearwater and nearly 48 hours after the accident, was suffering from hypothermia and he has provided different accounts to the men’s relatives. For example, Bleakley’s family said Schuyler told them that their son held on to the boat with his college teammate until he weakened and died. Schuyler has also said that Bleakley helped him survive by talking to him and encouraging him during their last night together.


Marquis Cooper’s father has questioned Schuyler’s account that his son removed his life jacket. Schuyler has not responded to interview requests.

As time passed, their relatives grew worried because the group was expected home around sunset. One of the men’s relatives contacted the Coast Guard around 1:30 a.m. on March 1 and a search began.

Records document the Coast Guard’s repeated attempts – and frustrations – as rescuers tried to find the small white boat in a stormy sea with heavy cloud cover and whitecaps making it tough to spot.

One person who called the Coast Guard reported that one of the men, presumably Cooper, had one week left before he was expected in California for football practice. The caller, whose name was redacted from the report, said the group “could have possibly tried to go farther out to fish.”

One of the men’s wives was able to find a handheld GPS device that he had left at home and had apparently used in previous trips to record the coordinates of favorite fishing spots. The Coast Guard used that data to refine their search, placing the likely location of the men about 10 nautical miles south of their expected destination.

The Coast Guard contacted the men’s cell phone companies for help tracking their whereabouts, without success. They also sent them text messages, stating that, “the CG is looking for you request you to contact us immediately.”

“Being that these guys are inexperienced, don’t look just at 50 NM offshore, there might be a possibility that they wisened up and stayed close to shore, at least within visual of land,” a Coast Guard officer wrote in one e-mail.

The same e-mail added that, “It might be worth considering getting the story out to media earlier than later more people on the lookout both on land and water.”

During the search, the Coast Guard reported 14-foot seas offshore and wind gusts up to 30 mph.

More than 24 hours after starting their search, a sign of hope finally emerged.

The Coast Guard cutter Tornado spotted Schuyler, looking small in the vast ocean and clinging to the boat’s hull.

At Tampa General Hospital, Schuyler’s doctor called it a “miracle” that he survived in the 63-degree Gulf water for nearly two days, and said he probably could have lived only another five to 10 hours.

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Tell Us What's On Your Mind (6)

  1. Colt Wiston says:

    I'm wondering if this could be murder instead of drowning?,
    Why would he change his story so many times??

    • I'll be honest with you i'm thinking the same thing after reading this story, how do you get the best position for surviving this ordeal on top of the aft of the hull by the outboard motor so you can hang on for dear life.
      Did they fight for this coveted position to stay alive, and did Nick Schuyler Win?
      Makes you ponder and wonder what really happened out there when the only survivor tells 3 different stories!

    • Dan Williams says:

      This is an awful story indeed, however it is one that plays out time and time again. I am a retired Florida Marine Patrol officer. Every incident I responded was just like this one. You have approx. 20 seconds to grab a life jacket and then you are in the water. With NO visual aids to help the rescuers it is difficult to spot anyone, the elements will kill you which is often over looked by the boating public.

      This could have been prevented, I invented the StayAlive Life jacket which if on board would have saved the lives of these men. It is a simple concept, StayAlve incorporates all mandated safety gear attached to the life jacket itself. If you do a search for StayAlive Life Jackets you will better understand this award winning patented marine survival system.

      Do to the economy we have relocated our offices,and distribution From Fl to East TN. We will be back up and running in spring of 2010.

      Dan Williams/ Inventor of StayAlive Safety Systems

  2. TERRI says:

    What is wrong with everyone out there? Gee…just because Nick was found holding onto the prop doesnt mean that anyone fought over that position. Before you judge Nick, you need to put yourself in the same position that all the men were in. They were probably all drunk from an entire day and part of an evening when they were dumped into the sea. Drinking, no matter who you are will dehydrate you…hense causing judgement and reaction to be impaired and the accelleration of hypothermia to begin. Of course, the shock, fear and trauma of it all would cause terrible judgements and decisions to be made. Why throw blame on a man that had to survive an ordeal that he will always have bitter memories of? As far as his memory of what really happened? One would have to know how much drinking he actually did that day (we all know that they didnt eat since their lunches were still intact on the vessel when it was salvaged). He was also very disillusional when he was found and made some of the statements. He may have even dreamed about some of it and doesnt know the difference between the reality and his fantasies of what may or may not have happened.

    He is lucky to be alive. It is not our place to judge him or anyone else. God saw fit to spare him, and God chose who was going home. The loss of the other three, while tragic was God's choosing…not man's. This ordeal will be with Nick the rest of his life. Leave him alone…if something happened that is not kosher or fair in our society…it is something that will be between Nick and God.

  3. Read the newest post on this website about this subject Terri..

    Nick Schuyler has told many different stories to not only the family members of the Lost, but also the Coast Guard and Media, So Opinions R like A*&@#
    Everyone has one, Glad you have expressed yours here.
    But the Majority in the web world has a different Opinion!!

  4. muck says:

    Well i think its more to this story then he saying. Something went very wrong out there.

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