Who was really responsible for the death of Rob Stewart?

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Who was really responsible for the death of Rob Stewart?

September 28, 2020 - 13:54
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Stewart Court Update

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.

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.

Peter Sotis being interviewed by Robert Osborne for a TV documentary about the circumstances under which charismatic Canadian filmmaker and conservationist Rob Stewart drowned.

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