The Third Dive: What Really Happened to Rob Stewart

A Canadian journalist and filmmaker has produced a new documentary about Rob Stewart’s tragic death in 2017. What really happened that day — and who is to blame?

Rob Stewart, the charismatic Canadian filmmaker and conservationist behind “Sharkwater,” died tragically in a diving accident in the Florida Keys in 2017. But what really happened that day? When I heard that Stewart had drowned, my first thought was that the media had gotten the story wrong. Stewart was an experienced technical diver, and the reports just didn’t seem to add up. To that end, I’ve spent the last year researching my new documentary, “The Third Dive.”

It will premiere on “CBC Docs POV” on October 26 th .

The first reports about the accident

Within days of Stewart’s death, some media reported that he died because a self-serving, Svengali-like instructor named Peter Sotis urged him to perform a dangerous — and ultimately fatal — dive. According to reports, Sotis convinced Stewart to conduct a series of dives that were too deep for his skill level. On the final dive, he came up too fast, paying the ultimate price. Some media also suggested that Sotis survived the dive by clawing his way onto the boat first, leaving Stewart to drown when he passed out in the water.

The world lost an important figure in the fight to prevent shark extinction. But Stewart was a hugely experienced diver. By one estimate he may have topped the 10,000-dive mark. He was also a certified instructor and had used rebreathers before when filming of “Sharkwater.” So it just didn’t make sense that a diver with his credentials would blindly follow what another diver said without question.

Tom Beaver during an autopsy

Peter on the boat

Sotis Rebreather Diving

Talking to the Keys’ medical examiner

Stewart’s parents hold Sotis and the dive operation, Horizon Divers, responsible for their son’s death, and their lawyers consequently filed a negligence lawsuit. But when I began scratching beneath the surface, parts of the accepted storyline fell apart. Dr. Thomas Beaver, the Keys’ medical examiner, told me he knew the case would be high-profile from the beginning and wanted everything done by the proverbial book, yet from the outset, he ran into considerable opposition.

“They threw Rob Stewart under the bus from the beginning,” he says. “They tried to tell me that Rob Stewart panicked and shot to the surface and that’s how he died.”

Beaver says he was excluded from the search for the body (though Florida law places that task under the M.E.’s jurisdiction) and also discovered anomalies in the chain of evidence that suggested Rob’s body might have been tampered with when it was recovered. Yet when he complained to the local sheriff, he says he was ignored.

Regardless, Beaver continued to push hard for answers. His determination has cost him dearly. He found himself vilified by the small, close community in the Keys. Despite the opposition, Beaver has painstakingly reconstructed the forensic evidence. Slowly he began to understand what occurred, which wasn’t necessarily what the world has been told to this point.

Talking to Peter Sotis

I also spoke with Peter Sotis, the last person to dive with Rob Stewart. He had a very different story to tell when I finally tracked him down, suggesting that he’s been set up as the perfect fall guy. “It’s easy to blame me, but it doesn’t mean it’s true,” he says.

Sotis is right about that. He’s confident and a little self-important. He likes to brag that his dive school is the best in the world. All reasons he says he’s an easy target, but he claims that all he was trying to do was help Stewart get the best film possible for “Sharkwater Extinction.”

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He says that when Stewart asked him for his support, he saw an opportunity: he could help Stewart and at the same time get some publicity for his company. When it came time to film, Sotis volunteered to act as their safety diver.

Digging for answers

After talking with Beaver and Sotis and dozens of other people involved in the accident, I realized that what really happened on the day Stewart died and in the few days following was a much more complicated and disturbing narrative than the one that’s gained popular traction. The real narrative involves the ruined life of the medical examiner who tried to get to the bottom of the story; allegations of tampering with evidence by the people with the most to lose in a lawsuit; an incestuously closed community that tried to blame the victim; and a grieving family that may not be ready to hear about their son and the risks he took to get the footage he needed for his film. We can sum up what happened that day with one quote from Dr. Beaver, “There’s a lot of blame to go around, a lot of blame.”

The CBC will broadcast the documentary in Canada on October 26 th on CBC Docs POV at 9 p.m. A U.S. broadcast is currently being negotiated and should be available shortly afterwards.

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For more than 30 years, Robert Osborne has worked for every major
television network in Canada as both a producer and reporter. Ten
years ago, Robert decided to combine his passion for storytelling with
his passion for scuba diving. Since then he’s been a regular contributor
to diving magazines around the world. Robert has also directed,
written and hosted several underwater documentaries.

Updates on the Tragic Death of Rob Stewart

There’s a new twist in the ongoing civil court case surrounding the death of environmentalist and film maker Rob Stewart.

There’s a new twist in the ongoing civil court case surrounding the death of environmentalist and filmmaker Rob Stewart, which throws one of the conventionally accepted narratives about responsibility into question. Many will recall that Stewart died tragically in an accident in January 2017 while completing the third dive of the day below 195 feet (60 m). He and his partner, Peter Sotis, both surfaced. But as Sotis climbed on the boat and passed out, Stewart was still in the water and vanished from the surface. Searchers recovered his body several days later.

Rob Stewart

Rob Stewart was an internationally known environmentalist and filmmaker

The world mourned Stewart’s passing, and offered praise for the spotlight he shone on the issue of shark-finning through his films “Sharkwater” and, posthumously, “Sharkwater Extinction.”

Almost immediately, some media outlets began to report on a narrative that suggested that Peter Sotis was to blame for Stewart’s death. The implication was that an experienced technical diver — Sotis — had led a relatively inexperienced technical diver somewhere he wasn’t qualified to go.

Within a few months, Stewart’s parents launched a negligence suite against Sotis, Horizon Divers, the crew of the boat and the equipment manufacturer. “The dive instructor had this student’s life entrusted to him, and took him on a third, unprecedented dive to 220 feet depth to get a $15 piece of equipment,” said their lawyer, Michael Haggard, at a Miami press conference. He also suggested that “their decompression profiles were reduced by the dive instructor” and that Stewart “was not prepared to do that kind of dive and the number of dives that he did that day.

The narrative went that Stewart, through a lack of experience, went along with what his instructor told him to do. Although that’s been the most common explanation for the tragedy for several years, it turns out that it may not be true.

New information comes to light

Peter Sotis

Peter Sotis was considered one of the leading rebreather experts in Florida

Quite recently, two defense documents were filed in the Stewart case that offer information about Stewart’s qualifications as a technical diver. It turns out that, far from being a neophyte, he held multiple technical certifications at an instructor level from Technical Divers International (TDI.) Certifications included Draeger Dolphin rebreather instructor; trimix instructor; advanced trimix instructor; extended range instructor; advanced gas blending instructor; advanced wreck instructor; decompression procedures instructor; advanced nitrox instructor; and equipment specialist instructor.

Many of those certifications allow a diver to go deep, use mixed gas, and follow decompression protocols to get back to the surface. Along with an instructor certification from PADI, Stewart was arguably more qualified as a technical diver than Sotis. There’s little question that Stewart knew that the dives he was completing were risky, and fully understood the implications of adjusting his gradient factor and gas blend to shorten decompression times.

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Counterarguments and further twists

Critics have counterargued that Stewart’s experience was related to open-circuit diving, not rebreathers. While that’s a valid argument, Stewart did have nearly 50 dives and a year of training on his rEvo rebreather unit, and much of the deep-diving theory is the same regardless of what apparatus a diver uses. Appreciating the risks of decompression sickness is a very basic lesson in deep diving.

Following these new revelations and in an interesting twist, rEvo’s lawyers have now suggested that if anyone was negligent, it was Sharkwater Productions, which was producing the film shoot, as well as Stewart’s companion Brock Cahill. He organized the dive with Horizon, set up the training with Sotis and Add Helium, and negotiated for the rebreathers with rEvo. According to the court documents, Sharkwater should have been following Canadian and American standards on to conduct a safe dive while filming. They contend Sharkwater Productions did not do that.

More revelations

These latest documents also allege that Stewart did not disclose a preexisting medical condition — a predisposition to black out. He talks about it in his book “Save the Humans” but, according to a court filing by Sotis, never mentioned it in his medical release when he began training. According to the court filing, “Robert Stewart, either in whole or in part, caused the injury, incident and damages alleged…by knowingly failing to disclose pre-existing medical conditions that rendered him unfit for the commercial dive operation he was engaged in at the time of his death on three separate Medical Questionnaires administered to him by Sotis and Add Helium LLC.”

The court document goes on to suggest that if the company had known about a predisposition to black out, Sotis and Add Helium would not have taken Stewart on as a student.

The fallout from the lawsuit continues. Sotis’ company Add Helium has gone bankrupt and Sotis says he has left the dive industry permanently. The case is dragging into the end of its fourth year and shows little signs of resolution.

Robert Osborne is a journalist and author who recently published “The Third Dive: An Investigation Into the Death of Rob Stewart.” Osborne continues to research the story and update Scuba Diver Life. His book is available on Amazon or in Canada at this link. All images courtesy dam builder Productions.

The Third Dive

“The Third Dive,” by Robert Osborne

Share this:

For more than 30 years, Robert Osborne has worked for every major
television network in Canada as both a producer and reporter. Ten
years ago, Robert decided to combine his passion for storytelling with
his passion for scuba diving. Since then he’s been a regular contributor
to diving magazines around the world. Robert has also directed,
written and hosted several underwater documentaries.

Who was really responsible for the death of Rob Stewart?

There’s a new twist in the civil court case surrounding the death of environmentalist and film maker Rob Stewart. It throws the whole conventionally accepted narrative into question.

Rob Stewart (December 28, 1979 – January 31, 2017) was a Canadian photographer, filmmaker and conservationist. He was best known for making and directing the documentary films Sharkwater and Revolution. He died at the age of 37 in a scuba diving incident while in Florida filming Sharkwater Extinction.

Many will recall that Stewart died tragically in an accident in January 2017 while completing the third dive of the day to below 60 meters. He and his partner, Peter Sotis, surfaced, but Sotis passed out on the boat after climbing aboard and Stewart vanished from the surface. His body was recovered several days later. The world mourned Stewart’s passing, many suggesting that he had almost single handed brought the issue of shark finning to the world’s attention and as a result had a major handing in saving an entire species.

The convenient fall guy

Almost immediately, some media outlets began to create a narrative that suggested, “The death of Rob Stewart lies firmly on the flippers of Peter Sotis.” Stewart Bethune, of a video blog called Wildlife Roundup concluded that this “narrative flies in the face of diving safety” and that Sotis “failed in his duty of care” with Stewart. The implication was that an experienced technical diver had led a relatively inexperienced technical diver to places where he wasn’t qualified to go.

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Within a few months, Stewart’s parents launched a negligence suite against Sotis, Horizon Divers, the crew of the boat and the equipment manufacturer. Their narrative also suggested Sotis was liable, their lawyer Michael Haggard stating at a Miami press conference, “the dive instructor that had this student’s life entrusted to him, took him on a third, unprecedented dive to 220 feet depth to get a $15 piece of equipment.” He also suggested that “their decompression profiles were reduced by the dive instructor” and that Stewart “was not prepared to do that kind of dive and the amount of dives that he did that day.” It’s quite clear that Sotis, according to the Stewart family’s lawyer, is running the dive and that Stewart, through a lack of experience, is going along with what his instructor tells him to do.

That’s been a popular narrative for several years, but it turns out that it may not be true.

Stewart was a qualified technical diver

Just days ago, two defence documents were filed in the Stewart case that bring to light new information about just how qualified Stewart was as a technical diver. It turns out that far from being a neophyte, he held multiple technical certifications at an instructor level from Technical Divers International (TDI.) rEvo’s court filings says, “At the time of his death, ROBERT STEWART held several Instructor level scuba diving certifications, all of which were issued in the year 2000 or earlier. The certifications included, but were not limited to: Draeger Dolphin Rebreather Instructor; Trimix Instructor; Advanced Trimix Instructor; Extended Range Instructor; Advanced Gas Blending Instructor; Advanced Nitrox Instructor; Advanced Wreck Instructor; Decompression Procedures Instructor; and Equipment Specialist Instructor.”

Along with an instructor certification from P.A.D.I., Stewart was arguably more qualified as a technical diver than Peter Sotis. Regardless, Stewart certainly had the credentials to know that the dives he was engaged in were risky and to fully understand the implications of adjusting his gradient factor and gas blend to shorten decompression times.

Who’s to blame?

In an interesting twist, rEvo’s lawyers have now suggested that if anyone was negligent, if was Sharkwater Productions who were producing the film shoot and Brock Cahill, Stewart’s companion, who organized the dive with Horizon, set up the training with Sotis and Add Helium and negotiated for the rebreathers with rEvo. The court statement says, “Defendant REVO asserts that the incident complained of was caused by or contributed to by…BROCK CAHILL, individually, and SHARKWATER PRODUCTIONS INC., a Canadian corporation.” According to these documents, Sharkwater should have been following Canadian and American standards about how to conduct a safe dive while filming. They contend Sharkwater Productions did not do that.

Another interesting revelation in these latest documents is the allegation that Stewart failed to disclose a pre-existing medical condition—a predisposition to black out. He talks about it in his book Save the Humans, but according to a court filing by Sotis, never bothered to mention that in his medical release when he began training, “Robert Stewart, either in whole or in part, caused the injury, incident and damages alleged… by knowingly failing to disclose pre-existing medical conditions that rendered him unfit for the commercial dive operation he was engaged in at the time of his death on three separate Medical Questionnaires administered to him by SOTIS and ADD HELIUM LLC.” The court document goes on to suggest, “if disclosed, the Decedent’s would have precluded him from receiving any training and/or certification to use rebreather equipment by SOTIS and/or ADD HELIUM, LLC.” In other words, if they’d known about a pre-disposition to black out, they never would have taken Stewart on as a student.

The fallout from the law suit continues. Sotis’ company Add Helium has gone bankrupt and Sotis says he has left the dive industry permanently. He asks “who would hire me?” The case is dragging into the end of its fourth year and shows little signs of being resolved.

Source https://scubadiverlife.com/third-dive-really-happened-rob-stewart/

Source https://scubadiverlife.com/updates-tragic-death-rob-stewart/

Source https://xray-mag.com/content/who-was-really-responsible-death-rob-stewart

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