PORT ARANSAS, Texas — Port Aransas has many fishing guides, but one that many knew was Gary Cooper. The United States Coast Guard (USCG) is investigating a boat crash that claimed Cooper’s life over the weekend.
One person who was there, was Cooper's friend James Joseph.
“Everyone knew of Gary Cooper, they called him Coop. Everybody knew of Coop,” he said.
Just before 6:30 Saturday morning, Cooper was taking clients out for a fishing excursion.
James Joseph was on his boat with three others closely behind Cooper. Joseph was heading out for a fishing tournament and Cooper was showing them a good spot to start their fishing day.
According to Joseph, a third boat coming from Aransas Pass approached at a fast pace.
Joseph says his son looked up and yelled, “He’s (going to) hit him!”
“Hit Capt. Cooper's boat directly broadside and launched his boat over the top of Capt. Cooper’s boat," Joseph said. "And landed approximately 10 to 15 feet on the other side of his boat.”
It happened in front of Roberts Point Park near the entrance to the Port Aransas Marina.
Joseph said Cooper was heading east past the jetty. He saw Cooper coast by with his running lights on and then they followed about 150 to 200 yards behind Cooper. The other boat came from the west. Joseph saw lights on that boat, as well.
Joseph said his son then sped up to the crash site to help.
“They were yelling man in the water, man in the water. As we got closer, I said Capt. Cooper’s in the water? He said Captain’s in the water,” said Joseph.
As soon as the crash happened, Joseph called 911. After a few minutes of searching they found Cooper unconscious in the water. He was the only one knocked into the water.
“We navigated towards him pulled him into our boat," said Joseph. "Took four of us to pull him into the boat. Immediately started CPR.”
There was only one person in the other boat.
Joseph said there were no obstructions that morning. No rain, no fog, calm waters, light wind.
Joseph knew Cooper for almost 20 years. He said Cooper is the reason his son became a boat captain. The three of them shared many memories, but Joseph said what will be remembered most, is how well respected Cooper was in Port Aransas.
“Just a very nice human being," he said. "Of course, he’s going to be missed as a boat captain, but even more so in my opinion, just as a gentleman and a mentor to so many people.”
The USCG did not answer many questions about the pending investigation. No charges have come yet. USCG is being assisted by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The three others on Cooper's boat were not seriously injured.