The desperate search for Toronto filmmaker and conservationist Rob Stewart continues Thursday after he went missing during a scuba dive off the Florida coast Tuesday evening.
Stewart, 37, was reported missing just after 5 p.m. Tuesday near Alligator Reef in the Florida Keys.
Early Thursday morning, the U.S. Coast Guard said on social media that “multi-agency air, surface, and dive teams continue search” for the missing conservationist.
Stewart, an experienced diver who is best known for his award-winning 2006 documentary Sharkwater, went missing around 5 p.m. after resurfacing from a dive with two other companions.
He was using a new rebreathing system at the time and was diving “deeper than he’s gone before,” according to Tyler MacLeod, a close friend of the Toronto native.
“He might have been lightheaded, he might have been not fully aware. We’re hoping that he inflated his BC [buoyancy companion] so that’s keeping him above the surface,” MacLeod said.
WATCH: The parents of Toronto filmmaker, Rob Stewart, spoke Wednesday about the desperate search for their son who went missing while scuba diving off the Florida Keys.
MacLeod, who was relaying information from a friend, Brock, who was with Stewart at the time, explained that Stewart indicated he was OK once he surfaced but a third diver with the team had apparently “blacked out.”
“Brock had to jump in to try and stop that guy from sinking and he was going under the boat, so Brock pulled him back on the boat apparently by the time he got him back on the boat…Rob was gone,” MacLeod said.
On Wednesday, Stewart’s parents, Brian and Sandy, said they were not giving up hope in the search for their son.
“It doesn’t look great, but we got to believe that he is the type of person who will survive,” Brian said.
“He’s super fit and he’s a great swimmer and he’s done thousands of dives,” Sandy said.
The mother noted the U.S. Coast Guard said Stewart “should be good to be out in the ocean for 72 hours.”
WATCH: Sister of missing filmmaker, Rob Stewart, calls brother inspirational
According to MacLeod, Stewart had been in Florida shooting a sequel for Sharkwater, a film that explores the hunting of sharks and the destruction of ocean ecosystems.
“In his eyes, it’s been getting harder and harder to find sharks and get to sharks and he wants to show people new sharks,” MacLeod.
On Tuesday evening, Stewart’s sister, Alexandra, issued an urgent plea on Facebook for help locating her brother.
“HELP NEAR ISLAMORADA. FLORIDA – PLEASE HELP WITH A SEARCH AND RESCUE FOR ROB STEWART WHO IS LOST DIVING,” she wrote.
Speaking with Global News on Wednesday, Alexandra said the family is “absolutely terrified right now.”
“I can’t even think about the possibilities of how this might end, the only thing I’ve been able to do is immediately jump into what is everything we can possibly do to help the situation turn out as well as possible,” she said. “So, I’m not even thinking about that…my parents are struggling to even utter sentences to other family members because it’s just so painful.”
A GoFundMe page was also set up early Wednesday to help raise “funds to support growing search efforts.”
As of Thursday morning, nearly $100,000 of the $130,000 fundraising goal had been reached.
Assisting in the search for Stewart is the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS). Stewart is a former Sea Shepherd crew member and the SSCS worked with the filmmaker in 2002 to produce Sharkwater, according to Paul Watson, Canadian environmentalist and founder of the non-profit conservation organization.
On Wednesday, Watson said the SSCS dispatched its new vessel John Paul DeJoria to aid in the search.
“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,” Watson said. “The John Paul DeJoria will coordinate rescue operations with the United States Coast Guard and the USCG Charles Sexton.”
On Thursday, Watson said in a statement the SSCS vessel continues to aid in the search “focusing on the drift of the Gulfstream.”
“If he is on the surface, we will find him,” Watson said.
– Global News reporter Erica Vella contributed to this report.
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