Schuyler still wondering why he survived boat tragedy

Published 2:35 am Wednesday, August 19, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. — The sole survivor of a February boating accident that killed two NFL players and a former college player said he’s still haunted daily by ‘‘survivor’s guilt’’ and wonders why he was the one who lived.

‘‘I still ask every day, ’Why me?’’’ Nick Schuyler, 24, said in an interview scheduled to air Tuesday night on HBO’s ‘‘Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.’’

‘‘The hardest time of day for me is at nighttime,’’ he said. ‘‘I toss and turn, and your mind’s weak. You get started thinking about everything, the same thing: ’Why me?’ I don’t know.’’

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Schuyler, a former University of South Florida football player, said he got seasick on the Feb. 28 trip and put on a sweat shirt, pants, shoes, gloves and a hat. That helped him stave off the effects of the hypothermia that led to the deaths of the others, who went into the water in shorts and T-shirts.

Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper, free-agent NFL defensive lineman Corey Smith and former USF player William Bleakley died.

After 46 hours, Coast Guard searchers found Schuyler sitting on the hull of the overturned boat.

Schuyler described how the boat capsized as the men tried to free the anchor, which was stuck on the bottom, about 70 miles west of Clearwater. They tried in vain to turn the boat back over, then were tossed about by 14-foot waves.

One by one, his friends began to succumb to the physical and mental effects of hypothermia brought on by the 63-degree Gulf of Mexico water. Bleakley, Schuyler’s best friend, was the last one to go. His torn life vest slipped off and he drowned, Schuyler said.

Their bodies have never been found.

Schuyler spent that night alone, bobbing up and down in rough seas and straddling the boat’s motor. At 7:45 a.m. March 2, a Coast Guard cutter’s crew spotted him. Doctors say he could have lived only five to 10 hours longer.

‘‘You don’t realize — and I’m not the religious type — how many times you say, ’Please, God,’’’ he said. ‘‘When I saw that boat, I said, ’Thank you God. Thank you God.’

‘‘I still can’t believe it. Lucky. Lucky.’’