Coast Guard suspends search for 3 missing boaters

CLEARWATER, Fla – The Coast Guard suspended its search at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday for the remaining three boaters who were reported missing after departing for their fishing trip off Clearwater Pass early Saturday.

Victor “Marquis” Cooper, Nick Schuyler, Corey Smith and William Bleakley departed Seminole Boat Ramp in Clearwater Pass in a 21-foot center- console boat around 6:30 a.m. Saturday. Watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg, Fla., were notified at 1:30 a.m. Sunday when they failed to return from their fishing trip as expected.

The Coast Guard immediately began a search for the four men by launching numerous aircraft, cutters and smallboats. Among those were:
# HC-130 Hercules aircrews from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater
# HH-60 Jayhawk aircrews from Air Station Clearwater
# HU-25 Falcon aircrews from Coast Guard Air Station Miami
# An HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircrew from Aviation Training Center Mobile, Ala.
# An Air Force C-130 aircrew from Moody Air Force Base, Ga.
# Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter aircrews from Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.
# The 179-foot cutter Tornado from Pascagoula, Miss.
# The 110-foot cutter Nantucket from St. Petersburg
# The 87-foot cutter Crocodile from St. Petersburg
# A 47-foot motor lifeboat crew from Coast Guard Station Sand Key, Fla.
# Boat crews from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office
# Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

On Monday, a crewmember aboard the cutter Tornado located an overturned vessel with Schuyler clinging to the outboard motor approximately 35 miles west of Tampa Bay, Fla. An HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew was diverted to medically evacuate Schuyler and transport him to Tampa General Hospital.

Coast Guard rescue crews searched for nearly three days, covering more than 24,000 square miles with no sign of Cooper, Smith or Bleakley.

The initial weather conditions during the search were 14-foot seas with 30- to 35-knot winds and had reduced to one- to three-foot seas with 10- to 15-knot winds by Tuesday. The water temperatures was 61 degrees.

“After exhaustive search efforts, we were unable to locate the missing men and the difficult decision was made to suspend our active search,” said Capt. Timothy Close, commander of Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg. “We would like to send our prayers and heartfelt condolences to the families of the three missing men.”

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