Determining what killed famed Canadian documentary filmmaker and conservationist Rob Stewart off Key Largo in late January could take months, according to the county’s medical examiner.
“I am hopeful you understand we are in the early stages of a complex investigation,” Monroe County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Beaver said in an email Wednesday when asked about the investigation. “Multiple agencies are involved.”
The U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service is in charge of looking into the circumstances that led to Stewart’s death. The 37-year-old disappeared on the afternoon of Jan. 31 after surfacing from a 225-feet dive off the Queen of Nassau wreck near Alligator Reef, about 6 miles off Key Largo. He was on his third deep dive of the day while filming the next installment of his “Sharkwater” documentary series about the importance of shark conservation.
Four days after a massive search involving a slew of federal, state and county agencies, as well as private citizens on boats and in planes, divers with the Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department found Stewart’s body on the ocean floor about 300 feet from where his colleagues saw him sink beneath the sea.
Special Agent Thomas Robarge would not comment on the investigation.
Coast Guard Capt. Jeffrey Janszen, commander of Sector Key West, said during a Feb. 3 press conference that Stewart and another diver, Peter Sotis, surfaced around 5 p.m. Sotis appeared to be having difficulties, so crew members on the Pisces dive vessel pulled him aboard. He lost consciousness, was revived and treated with oxygen. Janszen said Sotis declined further treatment.
Sotis could not be reached for comment.
The men were using complicated rebreather apparatus instead of the conventional compressed air tank. Rebreathers recirculate the diver's air by passing it through a scrubbing pad, which takes out the carbon dioxide. The system does not produce bubbles, which is why some underwater filmmakers prefer them, as to not scare away fish. They also allow for longer dives at greater depths.
But diving with rebreathers poses greater risks than using air tanks. Stewart was a highly accomplished diver but was new to the particular rebreather gear he used that day, and friends said he was going deeper than he had previously gone.
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204