The U.S. Coast Guard has announced they have located the body of missing Toronto filmmaker and conservationist Rob Stewart.
“Unfortunately it is with a heavy heart that I share Rob has been found,” said Victoria Gormley, reading a statement on behalf of the family. “We are deeply saddened but take comfort that he passed while doing what he loved,”
According to the USCG twitter feed, the body was found by a member of the Key Largo Volunteer Fire Department at a depth of about 60 metres.
Body of diver Mr Stewart reportedly found @ depth of 220 ft by ROV assist to Key Largo Vol Fire Dept.
— USCGSoutheast (@USCGSoutheast) February 4, 2017
Stewart, 37, disappeared Tuesday night while diving off the Florida Keys. Since then an exhaustive multi-agency search effort has been underway. Alongside them were volunteers in aircraft, boats and divers.
At a news conference in Islamorada earlier that day Capt. Jeffrey Janszen had announced the USCG would be suspending its search at sunset about 6:15 p.m. Stewart’s body was found shortly before that deadline.
“Our hearts go out to Mr. Stewart’s family, especially his parents Brian and Sandy,” said Janszen during the news conference Friday afternoon.
Volunteers had planned to continue search
Although the official search was ending volunteers had planned to continue looking.
Brian Stewart, Rob Stewart’s father, had been urging potential volunteers to go to Rob’s website for information on how to contribute to the search.
Those instructions have since been replaced with a message in honour of Rob Stewart’s memory.
“Rob has been found, peacefully in the ocean. There are no words. We are so deeply grateful to everyone who helped search, and happy that Rob passed while doing what he loved,” the message reads.
A GoFundMe page had also been set up to help pay for the costs of a continued search. With a goal of $280,000 the page had raised over $180,000 as of Friday evening.
“All excess funds not used will be donated to www.finfree.org, the charity Rob founded to help address the global slaughter of sharks,” a statement on the page said.
Stewart was last seen Tuesday evening conducting a dive on a shipwreck near Alligator Reef in the Florida Keys. When he returned to the surface his diving partner had difficulty breathing and lost consciousness while getting on board the dive boat, Pisces.
While crews attended to the unconscious man, Stewart disappeared beneath the waves. It is believed that he may also have lost consciousness.
At a depth of 70 metres the dive was considered difficult and was the deepest Stewart had ever gone.
“Normally divers only go to a depth of about 150 feet. Where Mr. Stewart was diving, he was going to a depth of about 220 feet, which is considered a very deep dive and very few divers are qualified to dive at the depth,” Janszen said.
Stewart is a praised filmmaker and is famous for his 2006 documentary Sharkwater, in which he explores the issue of shark hunting and the destruction of the ocean’s ecosystem.
He was diving while working on a planned sequel, Sharkwater: Extinction.