Breaking News. The family of Rob Stewart this morning announced they are suing for the wrongful death of their son. In a statement, the parents say they hope it will lead to changes within the Dive Industry to prevent such tragic deaths from happening in the future.
Court action has been filed against various parties. Firstly they are suing the Rebreather company ADD Helium who Rob had signed with for training, and who technically, were in charge of the fatal dive excursion. They are suing Peter Sotis, who was training Rob Stewart on Rebreathers at the time, and who will be a central defendant in any court proceedings. And they are also suing crew of the vessel for not ensuring the trainee diver (Stewart) was pulled from the water safely.
I say good on Rob’s family for following up and taking action. The whole story around Rob’s death stinks. We have a convicted felon who’s gone to ground, a company allegedly selling Rebreathers illegally to Libyan terrorists, false certificates on cheap Chinese tanks, several bankruptcies. And in the middle of all this malarkey, the death of the World’s foremost shark advocate.
Lets go back a bit though. Rob Stewart was the man behind Sharkwater, and he was in the process of making a sequel movie. While he was well experienced on scuba gear, he had only recently started training on Rebreathers. Now I don’t claim to be a rebreather expert. I’ve trained on O2 Military rebreathers and run some missions with them. But there are many people way more qualified than me to comment on the merits or otherwise of Rob Stewart and the that dives the ultimately led to his death. So I took the time to speak to a few of them.
With Rob being a Trainee, it is his Dive Instructor, Peter Sotis, who carries responsibility for the dives. Now according to information publicly available, they had completed 2 dives (the deepest to 70 metres / 200ft). After this, Peter Sotis was going down a third time to unhook, and Rob said he wanted to go as well, in case there was anything to film. Sources claim Sotis agreed to Rob going part way down where he would wait for Sotis to unhook, then they would ascend together. The rebreather experts I spoke to all said this is really pushing the boundaries for experienced divers, let alone someone like Rob who was new to mixed gas diving. 3 deep dives in a single day is crazy. Sotis will be in big trouble for this. Not a single Dive Instructor will front the court and say it is safe to complete 3 deep dives in a day.
On reaching the surface, initial reports claimed Peter Sotis, the Dive Instructor, blacked out, and the boat crew began administering oxygen to him. Rob had surfaced at the same time, but it would appear he too had blacked out, but with the crew busy saving Sotis, Rob was left to sink to his untimely death. Sotis has recently claimed he never blacked out at all. Although in many ways it is irrelevant. Sotis was responsible for the dive and if he is conscious or unconscious makes no difference really.
I did some digging on Sotis, and it would be fair to say he has a chequered history. He was convicted of Armed Robbery and sentenced to 3 years in prison. On getting out of prison he gradually found his way into tech diving, and founded his company Add Helium, which specialises in Rebreathers.
According to recently filed court documents though, a former company Director alleges Add Helium had been selling Chinese dive tanks in the US with faked CE certificates. Even worse though, the company is alleged to have been selling kit illegally to Libyan Terrorists. In court documents filed, Add Helium was advised by US Authorities last year not to sell any hardware to a Libyan who was suspected of terrorist activity, however it would seem a sale went ahead anyway. There are conflicting reports on this. I’ve had a former Add Helium employee reach out to me and explain that the hardware sold was not military grade, nor was the bloke it was sold to a terrorist. I guess this may all become clear in the court cases.
More recently, a disgruntled shareholder withdraw a large chunk of cash from the Add Helium Bank account, forcing the company’s closure. Several of the company Directors, including Sotis himself, have since filed for bankruptcy. Who that leaves out of pocket remains to be seen. And it is likely that Sotis will have little left to pay in any court settlements. Nevertheless, any action that will lead to a safer tech diving industry will be a good thing.
At the end of this trail though is the tragic death of a man who single-handedly put shark conservation into the public consciousness. The Add Helium website claimed Rob Stewart mysteriously disappeared. But there is no mystery to this. The death of Rob Stewart lies firmly at the fins of Peter Sotis.