The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has released its report on the February 28 boating accident that claimed the lives of former USF player Will Bleakley and former Bucs players Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith.
The boat belonged to Cooper.
According to the FWC, the accident was caused by improper anchoring, not enough slack in the anchor line and Cooper's attempt to thrust the boat forward to dislodge the anchor.
The report also indicates that visual distress equipment on the boat failed.
The report says Nick Schuyler, Will Bleakley and Marquis Cooper were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the incident. According to the report, Corey Smith had not been drinking alcohol.
Investigators say the lone survivor, Nick Schuyler, suffered from hypothermia and contusions.
Schuyler did not grant any media interview requests as he recovered at Tampa General Hospital, but various stories had circulated involving his recollection of the ordeal.
Before the report was released, one account was that, after the boat capsized, Bleakley swam under it and recovered three life vests. He gave the life vests to the three other men and allegedly used a seat cushion for a flotation device for himself.
Another report was that the boat had flares, but the men couldn't work them when rescue helicopters were nearby.
Both previous reports are confirmed in the FWC's report.
The incident began on February 28, when former Bucs players Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith and former USF players Will Bleakley and Nick Schuyler left a Clearwater boat ramp to go fishing.
That evening, the boat capsized.
In the FWC report, investigators say Schuyler told them the anchor line of the boat had been tied to the portside eye bracket of the transom. At that point, Cooper tried to thrust the boat forward to dislodge the anchor. Instead, the boat capsized.
Over the next several days, searchers combed more than 16,000 square miles of water off the coast of Pinellas County, looking for the four men.
Bleakley retrieved three life vests, another flotation device and a large cooler for floatation. Smith, Cooper and Schuyler put on the life vests. Bleakley used the other flotation device.
At the time the boat capsized, the water was chest-high, according to the report.
The men tried to use flares and cell phones, which had been put in plastic baggies, but the devices didn't work.
At one point, Schuyler was wearing a watch that had a light in it, so the boaters were able to tell what time it was.
By about 5:30 a.m. Sunday, Schuyler said Cooper became non-responsive. Schuyler and Bleakley tried to revive him and check for breath and pulse.
At that point, Cooper's life vest was removed and Bleakley put it on. Cooper then became separated from the boat.
About an hour later, Smith also began to show signs of hypothermia. At that point, Schuyler told investigators Smith removed his flotation device and separated from the boat.
At about 6:15 a.m. Monday, Schuyler watched hypothermia claim Bleakley as well. Bleakley removed his flotation device. As Schuyler held onto him, Bleakley appeared to take his last breath. At that point, Schuyler let go of Bleakley, and Bleakley became separated from the boat.
Schuyler was rescued less than six hours later.
On March 2, a Coast Guard helicopter plucked Schuyler to safety. He was found clinging to the boat, more than 40 hours after it had capsized.
At that point, an earnest search for Cooper, Smith and Bleakley continued. But eventually, the official Coast Guard search was called off. Cooper's family, which had organized a volunteer search, eventually did the same.
On March 4, a mixed team of state investigators and a salvage crew recovered the boat from the Gulf of Mexico. By that time, the 21-foot craft had drifted to 50 miles off the coast of Sarasota County.
FWC investigators recovered the boat as evidence in their investigation into the incident. It took more than three weeks for officials to release the report.
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