Boat Survivor Schuyler: Bleakley Died In My Grasp

By now, everyone knows the sad story of Nick Schuyler and his boatmates who were lost at sea off the Florida coast. Well, the tragedy gets sadder, as Schuyler is now reportedly changing his story about what happened to his former South Florida teammate, Will Bleakley. Rather than watching Bleakley take off his lifevest and swim toward what he thought was a light in the distance, Schuyler now says his teammate died in his grasp, succumbing to severe hypothermia and dehydration.

Will Bleakley lost at sea

(Bleakley: Died in teammate’s arms.)

The new and crushing rendition of Bleakley’s end came out via Bleakley’s father, who spoke with Schuyler on the phone Wednesday and relayed the coversation to the TAMPA TRIBUNE. For the record, Schuyler seems to be sticking to his original story that linebacker Marquis Cooper and defensive end Corey Smith both drifted away from the boat, but the revised story of Bleakley’s final hours is so sad that it seems understandable that Schuyler would have lied about how he died when first asked.

Here’s what Bleakley’s father, Bob Bleakley, told the TRIBUNE Schuyler had told him:

“Nick said to me that he would not be alive today if Will hadn’t been on the boat,” Bob Bleakley said. “His mother and his older brother and myself felt and knew this all along. When Nick said it, we were proud and relieved. (Schuyler told me) ‘Will stayed with me for 36 hours and was in my grasp when he lost consciousness and died.’ Nick tried CPR but Will did not respond. Then a wave hit and he couldn’t hold on to him anymore. That closed it for me.”

It’s hard to see how that wouldn’t close it for anyone, but the epitaph on both Cooper and Smith’s final hours isn’t nearly as complete. Cooper’s family is hiring a private search via planes and qualified charter boats, paying all interested $50 an hour to search for their son.

search for missing boaters continues

(The ongoing search for Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith.)

Smith’s family, for one, wants to talk to Schuyler to see if he actually watched him die the way he did Bleakley.

Smith’s sister, Yolanda Newbill said that she would like to talk to Nick Schuyler and hear his account of what happened. Newbill said she doesn’t believe some reports that Smith and Marquis Cooper eventually gave up and drifted away. “Until I speak to Nick, that story is pure speculation,” Newbill said.

At this point, hopes for finding Cooper or Smith alive are beyond grasping at straws, but it’s hard to blame the family for continuing the search. If Schuyler can deliver more details about how they “drifted away”, it might make it easier for both the Cooper and Smith families to accept that their sons are gone, but its clear that the former South Florida Bull also has to recover significantly both mentally and physically before his full story can be told.

“He is the only survivor. A great friend of my son,” Bob Bleakley said of Schuyler. “He has got to come to grips with this before he can figure it out.”