Information suggests others died hours after capsizing
TAMPA, Fla. — 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.