Rob Stewart, the Canadian conservationist and filmmaker renowned worldwide for his documentary Sharkwater, about the illegal shark finning trade, died through drowning as a result of hypoxia (a lack of oxygen), according to autopsy results.
Stewart, 37, died while filming the sequel to his pioneering film in January 2017, after diving on the Queen of Nassau shipwreck off the coast of Florida. Reports at the time confirmed that he had disappeared after surfacing from his third dive of the day. His body was recovered just 100m from where he was last sighted after a three-day search by a team of volunteers which included the local fire department.
Stewart’s dive buddy, Peter Sotis, who also provided the rebreathers they were using to conduct their dives on the 65m deep Queen of Nassau, was picked up by the dive boat where he is reported to have immediately lost consciousness. Stewart, who had been seen at the surface, disappeared while Sotis was being attended to.
Dr Thomas Beaver, who conducted the autopsy, reported that Sotis was ‘treated with emergency oxygen and quickly recovered’, adding that no further treatment was required and that no further symptoms were observed. As a result, Beaver concluded that decompression sickness was not the cause of the accident, as oxygen treats the symptoms but not the ‘underlying pathophysiology’ of DCS.
‘Based on the information available to me at this time,’ Dr Beaver reported, ‘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.’
The official cause of death, Beaver concluded, is drowning with the manner of death classified as an accident.
Stewart’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in March against Peter Sotis’ company, claiming that the ‘aggressive levels’ at which they were diving, coupled with a failure to adequately supervise Stewart after he surfaced, had led to his preventable death.