The Coast Guard was searching off Florida's Gulf Coast on Sunday for a fishing boat carrying NFL players Corey Smith and Marquis Cooper and two other men missing nearly a day in choppy seas.
Two NFL players lost at sea
Smith and Cooper were on a 21-foot vessel that left Clearwater Pass for a fishing trip Saturday morning and did not return as expected, the Coast Guard said Sunday. Crews used a helicopter and a 47-foot boat to search a 750-square mile area west of Clearwater Pass, but poor weather made the search difficult. Officials did not receive a distress signal from the missing craft.
Cooper owns the boat and he and Smith have been on fishing trips before, said Ron Del Duca, Smith's agent. The pair had been teammates on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2004. Two others were aboard: Will Bleakley and Nick Schuyler, both former University of South Florida players.
Coast Guard Capt. Timothy M. Close said the weather early Saturday had been fair, but worsened toward the evening as a front still battering the area moved in. The National Weather Service said seas were about 2 to 4 feet Saturday morning and increased to 3 to 5 feet in the afternoon. Late Saturday night, a small craft advisory was issued, when winds were around 20 knots and seas were up to 7 feet or more. There were no thunderstorms in the area.
Close said the men were traveling in a boat manufactured by Everglades. At least one of the men was an experienced boater, and relatives provided the Coast Guard with GPS coordinates from previous fishing expeditions.
Close said there was no communication with the men even before the weather started to pick up. They were expected home by early evening. No sign of them or the boat had been spotted by late Sunday afternoon.
Poor weather conditions could be dangerous for a boat the size of Cooper's.
"A 21-foot boat is a relatively small vessel to be 50 miles off shore in bad weather conditions, certainly the current weather conditions," Close said.
The Coast Guard search was mainly taking place by air, and was hampered by the poor weather, Close said. He said there were 14-foot seas offshore and wind gusts of up to 30 mph. Water depth in the area where they are searching ranges from 20 to 50 feet.
Close said there was no sign yet that the men sent a distress signal.
"That's not to say they didn't send one out," he said. "We didn't receive anything."
Smith, 29, had 30 tackles, including three sacks, and an interception in 12 games last season for the winless Lions. Smith, who is 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, also played for the San Francisco 49ers and played college ball at North Carolina State. He lives in Richmond, Va.
Del Duca called Smith one of the "good guys" of the league and was planning to start visiting teams as a free agent this week. He said he has spoken with Smith's family and is also in touch with Coast Guard officials.
"They've assured me that they're deploying all available resources to look for these guys and get them back," he said.
Cooper, 26, has played five seasons with the Buccaneers, Seahawks, Jaguars, Steelers and Raiders. He appeared in 26 games with the Buccaneers in 2004 and 2005, recording 30 tackles. He has played sparingly since as he has bounced between teams, appearing in 13 games and recording 10 tackles. Cooper, who is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, played college ball at Washington. His hometown is Mesa, Ariz., and his father Bruce is a prominent sportscaster for KPNX-TV in Phoenix.
Cooper told The Seattle Times in 2002 that one reason he chose Washington was the abundant fishing.
"I like fighting the fish," Cooper told the newspaper. "And just relaxing out there and being alone and being outside."
Lions spokesman Bill Keenist and Raiders senior executive John Hererra said the teams are monitoring reports.