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Cooper family keeps hope alive
Search continues for missing boaters
Article published on Wednesday, March 4, 2009
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[Image]
Photo courtesy of COAST GUARD
Crewmembers from Coast Guard Cutter Tornado rescue Nick Schuyler from an overturned vessel about 35 miles west of Egmont Key on Monday, March 2.
[Image]
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard
Nick Schuyler, 24, is wearing his lifejacket as he sits on top of the over-turned 21-foot boat about noon Monday. He was found by search crews about 39 miles west of Egmont Key.
[Image]
Photo by COAST GUARD FIREMAN ADAM CAMPBELL
Crewmembers from Coast Guard Air Station in Clearwater lift Nick Schuyler, 24, into a helicopter after he was rescued from overturned vessel about 35 miles west of Tampa Bay.
[Image]
Photo Courtesy of USFNation.com
Reports say Nick Schuyer, 24, is now at Tampa General Hospital after being rescued on Monday by the U.S. Coast Guard in waters off Tampa Bay.
PINELLAS COUNTY - Marquis Cooper’s family and players with the National Football League are continuing the search for the three men lost at sea off Clearwater Pass.

“If you would like to make a donation to help with the NFL search and rescue efforts for Marquis Cooper, Corey Smith and Will Bleakley, please click the PayPal link below,” is the message found at the top of Pastor Hal Mayer’s blog. “The fund is directed by the Cooper family through Church at the Bay. All of the contributions will go directly toward the search and rescue efforts and are tax deductible. Your support is greatly appreciated.”

Mayer is pastor of the Church of the Bay in Tampa. His blog can be found at halmayer.blogspot.com.

The U.S. Coast Guard ended its search for the three men at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3.

"After exhaustive search efforts, we were unable to locate the missing men and the difficult decision was made to suspend our active search," Capt. Timothy Close, commander of Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg, said in a press release issued Tuesday night. "We would like to send our prayers and heartfelt condolences to the families of the three missing men."

Coast Guard and Air Force crews from as far away as Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi joined Coast Guard crews from Clearwater and St. Petersburg, as well as personnel and boats from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in a three-day search that covered more than 24,000 square miles.

“We’re confident that there is little chance of finding any survivors,” Coast Guard Petty Office Robert Simpson said just before 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

Four boaters were reported missing about 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, March 1, after they failed to return from a fishing trip. According to the Coast Guard, the men left the Seminole Boat Ramp in Clearwater Pass around 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 28, in a 21-foot center-console boat.

At about noon Monday, the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Tornado located one of the four, Nick Schuyler, 24, about 35 miles west of Egmont Key, sitting on top of the over-turned 21-foot boat with a life-jacket on.

Click here to view a video of the rescue.

The four men were long-time friends joined by a common bond of a love for football.

Cooper, 26, was a linebacker for the Oakland Raiders and Smith, 29, a free agent, played defensive end for the Detroit Lions, according to their NFL profiles. They were former Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Cooper was drafted by the Bucs in 2004. Smith was originally signed by the Bucs in 2002.

Bleakley, 25, and Schuyler played ball for the University of South Florida. Bleakley lettered in 2004, 2005 and 2006 as a tight end for USF. Schuyler was a walk-on defensive end in 2006 but did not letter, according to a press release from the University of South Florida.

Schuyler is recovering at Tampa General Hospital and his rescue is being described by some as a miracle.

The 21-foot boat capsized while anchored on Saturday afternoon when waves and winds began to build as a cold front passed through.

AccuWeather.com said buoy reports off the Florida west coast showed winds Saturday were in the 15- to 25-knot range and waves on that portion of the Gulf of Mexico were 2 to 4 feet. Late Saturday night and Sunday, wind and waves increased with wave heights running close to 14 feet ahead. Water temperatures hovered between the low 60s and upper 50s.

Somehow, Schuyler managed to hold on to the outboard motor until help arrived.

His friends weren’t as lucky. The only signs of the other men found by the Coast Guard were an orange life vest and a cooler, which were recovered about 19 miles southeast of where Schuyler was found on Monday, Simpson said.

On Wednesday media sources began reporting stories of the ordeal told by Schuyler, including how Bleakley had swam under the boat after it capsized to get lifejackets and other supplies.

Schuyler also reportedly told Coast Guard officials that Cooper and Smith had taken off their life jackets and drifted away after clinging to the boat for more than 12 hours. Schuyler also reportedly said Bleakley had taken off his life jacket because he saw a light and wanted to swim to it to get help.

Bruce Cooper, Marquis’ father, said Wednesday he is not ready to give up the search and believes that his son, who he described as a fighter, may still be alive.

Mayer’s blog contains an update of events. He said the Coast Guard was “very kind and compassionate with the family. They explained they have to have their assets ready for other search and rescue events. They also explained that they feel the guys did not survive.”

The pastor also wrote that “It was hard to be in the room when the news was delivered. The pain, hurt and helplessness washed over everyone.”

Mayer said that Tank Johnson, a former NFL player, had volunteered to help the family with the continuing search. He said several NFL players also had volunteered to assist.

Mayer ended his update with a plea: “If you know any EXPERIENCED pilots that might be able to assist, please e-mail Tank at nflsearchandrescue@gmail.com.

“They understand the decision of the Coast Guard and yet they want to keep some hope alive,” he said.
Article published on Wednesday, March 4, 2009
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