By Paul Wexler
RaiderBeat.com Staff Writer
Sunday turned into Monday without any word on the whereabouts of Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper and three other men who failed to return from a fishing trip off the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday night.
The U.S. Coast Guard continued its search for Cooper, Detroit Lions defensive end Corey Smith, William Bleakley and Nick Schuyler despite darkness, rough seas and little help in the way of knowing where they intended to fish.
ABC News in Clearwater, Fla., first reported the story. RaiderBeat.com later learned that a truck registered to a Victor Marquis Cooper was found in the parking lot from where the missing 21-foot, center-console boat was launched.
The Coast Guard confirmed the identities of the four missing boaters. Smith, 29, plays for the Lions. He and Cooper were teammates with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2004.
Smith reportedly owns the boat rescuers are searching for. Cooper’s truck and boat trailer remain in the parking lot where the boat launched Saturday.
The Raiders issued the following press release:
“We are aware of the Coast Guard reports regarding a missing fishing boat off of Florida’s Gulf Coast and have been notified that one of those aboard is Raiders
linebacker Marquis Cooper. We are closely monitoring the situation and are in the process of gathering more information. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the passengers, their families and those involved in the search efforts.”
Schuyler’s father and stepmother, Stuart and Jackie Schuyler, drove to the the Seminole boat launch Sunday afternoon to await news of their son’s fate.
Stuart Schuyler told WTSP, Channel 10, that he is “hopeful, but still expecting the worst.”
The Coast Guard said in a news conference Sunday afternoon that the search will carry on Monday. Profootballtalk.com said late Sunday night that the search was called off but later retracted the report.
WTSP in Tampa said the Air Force has been called in to assist in the search.
Boats operated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are expected to join the search Monday morning if the men aren’t found by then, the Coast Guard said. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission boats would be assigned to search the inland waters .
Coast Guard capt. Timothy Close said conditions have made the search difficult. Winds reached 30-45 mph and the waves up to 14 feet, he said.
The search is being conducted in an area based on the GPS coordinates given the Coast Guard by a family member of an area the four men fished on other trips.
The March 11, 1982, birthdate listed for Victor Marquis Cooper of Odessa, Fla., matches the birthdate of the Marquis Cooper, 26, who plays for the Raiders.
The occupants departed at 6:30 a.m EST on Saturday and were supposed to return from a fishing trip soon after nightfall. A friend of one or more of the missing boaters notified the Coast Guard about 1:30 a.m. EST. A search began 30 minutes later.
Air and marine crews from the Sand Key and Clearwater Coast Guard stations are searching a 750 square mile area west of Clearwater Pass about 50 miles offshore.
The Coast Guard said the search party, at one point, included a 47-foot-boat, two planes, two helicopters and an 87-foot Coast Guard cutter named Crocodile. Poor conditions forced the Coast Guard to call back the 47-foot boat.
The searchers battled wind strong wind gusts, as well as 6-foot to 10-foot waves.
Cooper signed with the Raiders midseason last year and made an immediate impact as a special teams player. He has played for six teams during his five-year NFL career. He appeared in eight games for the Raiders and remains under contract.