Sixteen months after the Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart died after surfacing from a dive off the coast of Islamorada, Florida, it has been confirmed that the US Coast Guard have finished their investigation.
They submitted their report on the fatal dive to Washington DC Coast Guard Headquarters in December 2017. Headquarters returned the report, along with a set of questions, to Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Sammons in February 2018. The revised report was sent back to HQ in the same month, and to date, the report has not been released to the public.
The Fatal Dive
Cinematographer and shark shark conservationist Rob Stewart conducted three deep dives (68.2 mt / 224 ft, 69.1 mt / 227 ft and 68.5 mt/ 225 ft) on Tuesday 31 January 2017 with Peter Sotis of Dive Helium. The pair had been diving the wreck of 'The Queen of Nassau'. According to Tyler MacLeod (a friend of Steward) this was the deepest dive Stewart had ever done.
Both men were diving rEvo rebreathers and successfully completed the three dives. Upon surfacing from the third dive Sotis was disoriented. As Sotis got on board the dive boat 'Pisces' he lost consciousness. Whilst the crew administered oxygen, Stewart disappeared from the surface. He was reported missing at 17.15 and within five minutes a Navy helicopter was dispatched and Coast Guard cutter 'Sexton' was diverted to the scene.
After an extensive search of almost 6,000 square miles of ocean by two Coast Guard helicopters, multi-agencies and the general public, Stewart's body was found on Friday 3 February 2017 just minutes after Captain Jeffrey Janszen, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Key West, had announced the multi-agency search was concluding. Stewart was found very close to where he disappeared in 66.4 mt / 217 ft of water.
NEDU [US] Navy Experimental Dive Unit in Panama City examined the rEvo rebreather and Shearwater Petrel dive computer that Stewart had dived, and submitted its report to the USCG and the Monroe County Medical Examiner at the latter end of April 2017.
Dr. Thomas Beaver conducted the autopsy. The Monroe County medical examiner’s report was issued in August 2017 and stated that Stewart had died from drowning after succumbing to acute lack of oxygen - or hypoxia - at the surface. Beaver said “based on the information available to me at this time it is my opinion that both Peter Sotis and Robert Stewart suffered acute hypoxia at the surface. Once Mr. Stewart lost consciousness he lost control of the breathing loop and drowned. Therefore, it is my opinion that the cause of death is best certified as Drowning with the manner of death classified as Accident.”
Beaver justified his conclusion because Sotis recovered pretty quickly after being administered oxygen on the dive boat.
It is thought that the Coast Guard report will look at several safety factors that could have contributed to Rob Stewart's death, ie his training. Was it adequate? And what caused Stewart to lose consciousness at the surface and sink to his death.