An investigation is looking for a cause of Marquis Cooper, Will Bleakley, and Corey Smith’s death during a fishing trip in Cooper’s boat. They concluded that it might have been caused when the vessel was improperly anchored. One of the men tried to pry loose the anchor when the boat capsized.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also cited that carelessness and operator inexperience could have caused the boat to capsize.
Marquis Cooper, Will Bleakley, Corey Smith, and Nick Schuyler were going on a fishing trip on February 28th when they experienced rough waters. Two days later, only Schuyler was found still clinging to the boat. The three other men still have not been found.
During an in-depth interview with Schuyler, the investigation agency found out the following:
The morning of February 28th, the men went more than 50 miles off the coast of Florida in Cooper’s 21-foot-long boat to go fishing. They brought two large coolers filled with food, ice, drinks, and beer. All four men were dressed warmly, in sweat suits and jackets.
When they tried to pull the anchor back up at around 5:30 PM, they couldn’t because it was stuck. Bleakley suggested that they tie the transom to it and try to get it loose. In doing so, the boat became submerged and capsized, tossing all the men off the boat.
The men tried to turn the boat back upright by standing on one side of it, but failed. Bleakley eventually swam underneath the overturned boat and grabbed three life jackets, a cooler, and a cushion-type flotation device. Cooper, Smith, and Schuyler used the life jackets, while Bleakley used the cushion.
The men tried to use flares, but they were wet. They tried to use their cell phones, but they couldn’t get a signal.
Schuyler was wearing a watch, and was able to keep track of the time. At around 5:30 AM the next day, Cooper became unresponsive. Bleakley and Schuyler tried to revive him, but had no success. Cooper’s life jacket was removed and Bleakley put it on. Cooper then floated away from the boat.
About an hour later, Smith started to “show possible extreme symptoms of hypothermia.” He removed his own life jacket, and also drifted away from the boat.
Schuyler and Bleakley, the University of South Florida teammates, were the only two left. For about 24 hours, they hung on together until Bleakley grew weak. He ended up taking off his own life jacket as well, but Schuyler still held on to him. He said that Bleakley started to appear to die as he was holding on to him, so he let him go as well.
Cooper had more than 100 hours in boating experience, but he never had any formal training. “Overall, it’s just a mistake in anchoring,” investigator Jim Manson said.
The Coast Guard searched for three days in over 24,000 square miles of ocean before calling off the search.