Lone Survivor of Florida Boat Accident Opens Up
Months after a fateful fishing trip that took the lives of three football-player friends, Nick Schuyler is ready to talk about his ordeal. Schuyler was the only survivor, found clinging to a capsized boat nearly 48 hours after the men set out on a fishing trip to the Gulf.
Every night before he goes to sleep, Schuyler sees one image staring back at him when he closes his eyes: the faces of his friends - William Bleakley, a former University of South Florida player, Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith, an NFL free-agent defensive lineman - bobbing in the raging Gulf waters. And, he can't save them. It is that memory, Schuyler says, that haunts him day in and day out.
When he talks about it, the pain is in his face, his voice, every word he speaks. Schuyler openly admits he doesn't know why he survived the Feb. 28 tragedy while three of his friends died in the open waters, despite exhausting efforts to keep them alive.
"There was a point in the middle of the night when, I mean, we were 10-15 feet away from the boat. The current is going every which way pulling us away, and we're fighting just to keep each other close, touching, you know. "
After the story seemed to fade away, the interest never has.
For months people have been waiting to hear from the only survivor of that fateful fishing trip. It is the interview everyone wanted. Big names like Oprah and Larry King contacted the 24-year-old. Other media outlets offered big bucks to the former USF footballplayer.
From the very beginning, Schuyler has denied all media requests and instructed his family and friends to do the same.
Until now, he has kept his silence.
So, why did he decide to grant an exclusive interview to HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel"? According to the St. Petersburg Times, Schuyler's media adviser said, "(Nick) wanted to set the record straight about some of the facts that had been transpired and been inaccurately reported by a variety of outlets."
Schuyler is still uncomfortable with all the media attention. He says he is not a hero in any way. In fact, he admits he thinks about that weekend 20 times a day and feels tremendous guilt about surviving.
"You know, people come out, you're a celebrity, you know. I'm not a damn celebrity. Give me a break. You're a hero? If I had another person here with me, you know, I'd be a hero. You know, if I was able to keep them alive, maybe," Schuyler told "Real Sports."
The conditions that day when the men set out on the Gulf were favorable. It was a warm, sunny morning with a breeze. But right behind that idyllic forecast, a cold front was moving across the Gulf from New Orleans, bringing with it gusts winds of up to 40 mph winds.
That night on the water the men would feel temperatures drop more than 20 degrees.
The men left early that Saturday, and by nightfall when no one had heard from any of them, a search began.
Media reports indicate that Schuyler was seasick on the trip and was fully clothed when the boat capsized, wearing pants, a shirt and a life jacket, while his friends had on T-shirts and shorts.
When hypothermia began to set in, each of the men began reacting both physically and emotionally to the treacherous conditions on the water.
They were 50 miles out when the Gulf became extremely active with 10- to 15-foot waves. The anchor was caught on something underwater, and rather than cutting the line on the $200 anchor, Marquis Cooper, the boat's owner, moved it to the back.
After gunning the engine, the boat capsized, taking with it the men on board. They clung to one another in the frigid gulf waters. At one point, the men saw helicopters overhead and began screaming.
But, the boat blended in with the jagged whitecaps.
In the ESPN interview, Schuyler revealed that Cooper was the first to give in to hallucinations, attempting to leave the boat.
"After some time, Marquis went from being vocal and aggressive, to being unconscious," Schuyler said. He adds that Smith also began behaving irrationally, trying to leave the boat. Sources say that Smith broke free from the boat and swam off into the open water. He would never be seen again.
Schuyler's best friend, Will Bleakley, was the next to go after his lifejacket ripped.
"There was a good 10-minute span where I just sat on that boat and watched my best friend floating," Schuyler said.
Nearly 48 hours later, Schuyler would be found sitting on the hull of the overturned boat. He was rushed to Tampa General Hospital, where the media converged for days, as the search for the other three men continued.
Their bodies would never be recovered.
It's been nearly six months after the accident. Schuyler has recovered physically, but mentally, it's still a battle.
While holding down a job, paying his bills and spending time with friends, Schuyler admits that he sometimes has to "pretend to be OK."
And, every night, he asks himself the same question over and over before he goes to sleep, why did I survive? Why me?