The search is over; and the painful reality is setting in for three families whose loved ones were lost at sea.
Their worst fears were confirmed on Tuesday when the Coast Guard called off its search for NFL players Marquis Cooper of the Oakland Raiders, free-agent defensive lineman Corey Smith and their friend William Bleakley. All three were lost at sea after their boat capsized during a fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida Saturday. A fourth man, Nick Schuyler, was found alive by rescue crews and is hospitalized.
"We're extremely confident that if there were any survivors on the surface of the water...we would have found them," Coast Guard Capt. Timothy Close said at a news conference.
Despite the Coast Guard's decision to end the search for the missing boaters, Schuyler's rescue is something that gives the families hope.
"I believe in my heart that he's out there fighting to get back because he knows he has a daughter and a wife and a lot of people would love him to get back, too. So, that's really what I'm clinging on to," Marquis' father, Bruce Cooper, said. "Marquis is not going to quit out there. That's what's comforting me."
There are so many questions about what went wrong, and Coast Guard officials believe Schuyler has many of the answers. However, according to CNN, his dehydration and exhaustion are so severe that he's having problems filling in the gaps. What Schuyler has told officials is that a large wave hit the boat around 5 p.m. Saturday. Schuyler's dad told CNN that his son said, "They were all clinging together, helping each other the whole time." He went on to say that the men were in the water "roughly 40 hours" and "for four or five hours" his son was alone. He said that as it got darker they drifted apart and could no longer see each other.
At one point, there was belief that the other three men might have been able to beat the odds of surviving hypothermia and dehydration because of their good physical conditions. But grim discoveries on Tuesday made the Coast Guard's decision inevitable.
Close said the Coast Guard found one cooler and one orange life jacket in close proximity to each other, approximately 16 miles southeast of where the vessel was found – in the direction the Coast Guard said the current would have taken the missing men.
"I've been praying since I got the news," Joe Cullen, Smith's defensive line coach told mlive.com. "I'm still hoping he'll defy all the odds, just like he did when he came into the league. It's such an empty feeling right now."
According to CNN, some of Marquis Cooper's fishing buddies are going to go out and continue the search on their own. NFL player Tank Johnson, who is a friend of Cooper's, has also told the local Florida media that pilots can volunteer by e-mail to help search the area.