UPDATE: FRI 3RD FEBRUARY (18:02 EST / 2202 UTC): Sad news coming out from South Florida as the search for Rob Stewart finds his body 300ft from where he disappeared. Full details here.
Rob Stewart, director of the documentary film “Sharkwater,” has been reported missing during a dive near Islamorada in the Florida Keys on Tuesday 31st January 2017.
RELATED: Profile: Rob Stewart
According to reports on Tuesday, he left in a dive boat from Caloosa Cove to dive with three other divers on the Queen of Nassau Wreck, about 7 kilometers off of Islamorada at Coordinates: 24.9243°; -80.6278° and was last seen at the surface of the water at 5 pm, January 31st. Stewart and the rest of the group were diving a new rebreather system although details are scarce on what that system was.
An extensive and immediate search was started, but so far Stewart has not been found after continued searching through Tuesday evening, Wednesday, and Thursday. Search and rescue attempts have restarted again for a third full day on Friday and a specific call for experienced boat operators to run shallow-water flats boats or air boats along the shoals and bores near the shoreline as well as beach walkers.
NOTE: Those interested in helping out should scroll to the bottom of this post for further information.
Stewart is best known for his 2006 documentary Sharkwater in which he examined and exposed the shark-hunting industries of the world and the effect upon the ocean ecosystem.
UPDATED: 3 February 15:15 EST / 20:15 UTC DeeperBlue.com spoke with US Coast Guard Public Affairs Officer Senior Chief Nyx Cangemi, who is onsite at Islamorada, on Friday afternoon. Senior Chief Cangemi advised that as of 15:00 on Friday, an area of over 5,987 square miles had been searched by sea and air. This is slightly larger than the U.S. state of Connecticut.
Senior Chief Cangemi said the US Coast Guard Seventh District will be holding a Live Press Conference at 16:30 EST / 21:30 UTC on Periscope Live https://www.periscope.tv/ (A Periscope broadcast is a live video stream that allows viewers to engage directly with the broadcaster and other viewers through the use of real time commenting and hearts). More information can be found on their Twitter Feed at https://twitter.com/uscgsoutheast.
The USCG Cutter RICHARD ETHERIDGE is leading the search along with MH-65 Dolphin Search and Rescue helicopters, aircraft and vessels from the Florida Wildlife Commission and the US Customs and Border Patrol. In addition, the United States Navy had a Search and Rescue helicopter has been assisting overnight.
In addition, there is a large number of civilian boats aiding with the search and are being asked to coordinate with the USCG.
Stewart Family Discuss Rob’s Disappearance
As the search picked up pace on Wednesday, City News Toronto released an interview with Stewart’s sister Alexandra. In it, she said her brother was diving at a depth of 70 meters/230 feet with a buddy to film a new segment on sawfish sharks for “Sharkwater Extinction,” the sequel to his award-winning film “Sharkwater.”
Here’s an excerpt from that interview:
“It’s pure speculation, it’s certainly possible he lost consciousness, its certainly possible that, given both of these people who I think had been doing the same course of dives over the day, experienced something, maybe it was something about the last dive, or the combination of dives, that might have contributed to this.”
When asked whether there was anywhere Stewart could have found safety, his sister said:
“Yes, there are buoys, there are markers, there’s a lighthouse right there, so there are lots of sort of little pieces of land that somebody could have swum to. The second thing that we feel good about is that when you dive you have an inflatable vest, which keeps you afloat. He was also in a drysuit, which further adds some buoyancy, it’s salt water, it’s warm, he’s an incredibly strong swimmer and diver, so what we heard was in this sort of environmental conditions, people can survive more than 72 hours, and Rob being so fit and so skilled in the ocean, we think he should get beyond that, no problem.”
Alexandra still holds out hope Rob will be found:
“Absolutely, the Coast Guard is doing an excellent job and are the world experts in leading this kind of rescue mission, we’re just trying to do absolutely everything we can, so it’s really two things: One is, if there’s anything we can help mobilize, we’re doing that, and we’re also getting prepared for the time where it might be necessary to have a private search led, but we would be absolutely delighted if the Coast Guard committed to continuing this search.
“This has been a horrible time for me and my family, and we’re just trying to get through it by doing absolutely everything possible to help in the search and rescue mission.”
Additionally, US Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Kelley, commented in interviews that up to 15 aircraft had been involved in the search during the day:
“We continue to search. This is a search and rescue operation in the hopes that we will find Mr. Stewart, and we’re gonna do that throughout the night as well as initiate that with aircraft in the morning. The weather conditions thankfully have been very conducive to effective search-and-rescue operations.”
Support for the search has been extensive, including more than US$164,000 being raised on a gofundme crowdfunding site. Local divers and boat owners joined the search on Wednesday and Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd fame, announced that
“Sea Shepherd has dispatched our new ship the John Paul Dejoria from Miami to join the search for Rob Stewart…I spoke with the U.S. Coast Guard. They said they were making an intensive effort and advised that we not enter the primary search area but agreed that we can search to the north of the area where Rob was last seen. The current is pushing northeast at around five knots.”
Those Wanting To Help
As the search enters day 3 on Friday, the call for volunteers continues, with a post from Stewart’s Sister on Facebook:
The current needs are:
DRONES: We need drones and drone operators (for day and night searching). Contact
Taylor David 1-416-824-9121
BOAT OPERATORS: Experienced Florida Keys boat operators to run shallow-water flats boats or air boats along the shoals and bores near the shoreline. Meet at Bayside Boat Rentals – 813 Largo Road Key Largo, FL 33037. Contact Alex: 416-805-0100
Boats that arrive should contact US Coast Guard Cutter RICHARD ETHERIDGE on VHF Marine Channel 16. If you don’t have a radio, they can reach the vessel at: 305-508-5861, but VHF Marine Channel 16 is preferred.
VOLUNTEERS (SEARCHERS): If you know anyone in the Florida Keys, we could really use
Beach walkers: please walk the shorelines of Marathon, Duck Key, Conch Key, and Long Key – the more walkers the better. We need those shorelines combed and the beaches searched just as much as we need the boats out there. Contact Shelby: 786-393-2677 (she’s coordinating on the ground)
VOLUNTEERS (DIVERS): The coordinates for the site Rob was diving are: 24 47.165N 080 39.546W From those coordinates, anything on the surface will drift with current, thus, if you’re planning on heading out please try to determine (best guess) the current speed and direction (“Set and Drift”) and use that info to determine your search area.
AIR ASSETS (HELICOPTERS & PLANES): Contact Jennifer Zabawa: (416) 841-1330
Boats and aircraft that arrive should contact US Coast Guard Cutter RICHARD ETHERIDGE on VHF Marine Channel 16. If you don’t have a radio, they can reach the vessel at: 305-508-5861, but VHF Marine Channel 16 is preferred.
NIGHT-SEARCHING: For Night Searching planning, contact Will Allen: +1.514.241.1234
The USCG have advised DeeperBlue.com that all help and tips are welcome. They advise that boaters and pilots who want to help in the efforts should contact the USCG Command Center at 305-292-8727 to enable the search organizers to safely integrate civilian efforts into the emergency response.
The Coast Guard spokesperson advises that help is not going to be turned away, but to please contact and coordinate with local authorities. This is for everyone’s safety, especially as additional air assets are brought on-scene.
The current need is for skilled boat captains and pilots. If you want to aid in the search, please contact the USCG Command Center for further guidance.
Civilian volunteers who want to help with the search, especially the night-time search, can contact Will Allen at 514-241-1234; he will be the point person to coordinate volunteer searchers.
Those of you wanting to help but not local can help by donating to the GoFundMe page set up to help fund the Search and Rescue.
Additional reporting by Francesca Koe & John B Griffith & John Liang