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Coast Guard finds 1 survivor, NFL players still missing

TAMPA, Fla. - Coast Guard searchers on Monday narrowed thesearch area for two NFL players and a third man missing since aweekend fishing trip off the Florida Gulf Coast after crews rescueda fourth man clinging to their capsized boat.

Survivor Nick Schuyler, a former University of South Floridaplayer, told rescuers that the boat the four friends were aboardwas anchored when it flipped Saturday evening in rough seas, saidCoast Guard Capt. Timothy M. Close. Since then, Schuyler, who waswearing a life vest, had been hanging onto the boat found by aCoast Guard cutter 35 miles off Clearwater.

Schuyler said the other three men got separated from the boat.The 21-footer belongs to Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper,who, along with free-agent defensive lineman Corey Smith and formerSouth Florida player William Bleakley, remained missing.

Schuyler was conscious but appeared weak as he was being takenoff a helicopter at Tampa General Hospital and placed on astretcher. His father said his son was in serious but stablecondition and that he "looks OK."

"He's got some cuts and bruises. He's dehydrated," said StuartSchuyler.

Schuyler's mother, Marsha Schuyler, said her son told her thathe survived by thinking about how he didn't want her to go to hisfuneral.

The family's joy at him being found alive was tempered by thesearch for his friends.

"We still have three men missing, and we're not going to talktoo much until we find these guys," said his father, StuartSchuyler. "We're all praying for them. These guys are all veryclose friends."

Coast Guard photos showed Schuyler wearing a yellow jacket andorange life vest and sitting on the hull of the capsized boat as arescue cutter approached. A helicopter lowered a basket to haul himaboard. The search area is now "substantially smaller," based onwhere they found the boat and Schuyler, Close said. Searchers hadpreviously covered 16,000 square miles of ocean.

Smith's family planned to drive to Florida from Richmond, Va.,Tuesday, after the snowy weather in the East made getting a flightimpossible, said Yolanda Newbill, one of Smith's sisters. She saidthey have been in contact with the Coast Guard every few hourssince the search began.

"We have never lost hope," Newbill said. "We have total faiththat (he) will be coming home."

Ray Sanchez of Tampa, a cousin of Cooper, said he was told themen were together "for a good period of time" after the boatflipped. He said the family was confident the Coast Guard wouldfind them.

"My cousin's a powerful swimmer," he said.

The water temperature in the area was 68 degrees. After 18 hoursin 64-degree water, hypothermia will set in, said Coast Guard PettyOfficer 2nd Class James Harless. How long someone can survivedepends on how big the person is, he said. Cooper is 6-foot-3, 230pounds, and Smith, 6-foot-2, 250 pounds.

The four friends left Clearwater Pass early Saturday in calmweather, but heavy winds picked up through the day and the seas gotheavy, with waves of 7 feet and higher, peaking at 15 feet onSunday. A relative alerted the Coast Guard early Sunday after themen did not return as expected. The Coast Guard said it did notreceive a distress signal.

The men were aboard an Everglades-manufactured boat, which isbuilt with compressed foam encased in Fiberglas, making itdifficult to sink. The weather had improved, with waves subsidingto 6 to 8 feet, National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Barronsaid.

However, Bob Zales, president of National Association of CharterBoat Operators, said waves that high can capsize a boat the size ofCooper's.

"A boat that size, personally, I wouldn't get out any fartherthan 20 or 30 miles offshore," Zales said. "But I see people allthe time 40, 50 miles offshore."

Cooper and Smith, who were teammates with the Tampa BayBuccaneers in 2004, have been on fishing trips before, according toRon Del Duca, Smith's agent.

The 29-year-old Smith of Richmond, had 30 tackles, includingthree sacks, and an interception in 12 games last season for theDetroit Lions. He also played for the San Francisco 49ers and was astandout at North Carolina State.

Cooper, 26, played college ball at Washington, and has spentfive seasons with five different teams, appearing in 26 games withthe Buccaneers in 2004 and 2005. He's played sparingly since. Hegrew up in Gilbert, Ariz., and his father Bruce is a prominentsportscaster for KPNX-TV in Phoenix.


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