A 21-year-old free diver was miraculously rescued by his family after he was swept away by the Gulf Stream while diving more than five miles from the Florida Keys.
Diver and spear fisherman Dylan Gartenmayer described the moment he heard the hum of his grandfather’s boat as he hopelessly lay watching the sun set over shark-infested waters.
Hours earlier on Thursday afternoon, he had been with two friends as he descended for his final dive of the day around the West Sambo Reef.
Beneath the surface he was caught in a current that drew him 150 feet below the surface and spat him out around a mile away.
His friends notified both the US Coast Guard and his family, who began a desperate search, racing against the setting sun.
21-year-old diver and spear fisherman Dylan Gartenmayer (right) was rescued after being swept away by the Gulf Stream while free diving more than 5 miles from the Florida Key. He is pictured here with his mother, Tabitha (left)
After emerging he swam around a mile back towards the reef, where he cut free mooring buoys which he tied together to form a makeshift raft.
‘I was watching the sun drop pretty quickly,’ said Gartenmayer in a video posted to social media.
Fishing bait started washing up around him, attracting the attention of sharks.
‘I’d just seen a reef shark swam past me,’ he said. ‘I had a bunch of bait start blowing up around, I could see mackerel skyrocketing.’
As the temperature began to drop and a chill set in, the diver described how he used the buoys to keep his body as far out of the water as possible.
‘I was starting to shiver at that point and my hands were starting to feel a little numb, so were my toes, so I knew this was starting to get serious,’ he said.
A rescue mission involving coast guard boats and aircraft was underway, but they were unable to spot him.
‘I had a small plane fly above but they didn’t see me,’ he said. ‘About 30 minutes later they flew back again, still didn’t see me.’
‘Shortly after that the sun had disappeared past the horizon. Looking to the east it was pitch black, looking to the west you could see the remnants of the sunset. As I saw the sun disappear I knew things were starting to get a little more dire,’ he said.
Family members and the coast guard launched a search operation and he was discovered clinging to two buoys just as the sun was setting
But then the amateur search party led by his family struck gold. ‘By some miracle my parents and everybody else on board my grandfather’s boat ended up driving and basically landing right on top of me,’ he said.
‘I could hear the engines running and I knew from there that was actually my grandfather’s boat.’
Gartenmayer, who was raised in the Keys, has more than a decade of experience free diving and spear fishing.
‘As natives of Key West, we love the ocean. I was spearfishing with Dylan in my belly,’ his mother Tabitha told NBC6.
The incident happened on January 19 when he and two friends were diving and fishing around six miles from the coast. As they were getting ready to head back due to deteriorating water conditions, Gartenmayer decided to go for one last dive.
During that dive he was around 35 feet below the surface when currents swept him down to a depth of 150 foot, submerging him for around two minutes.
‘I do a lot of deep free diving, so I like to go over 100 plus feet on a single breath,’ Gartenmayer said.
His friends waiting on the boat became concerned when he never came back up. ‘They were mainly looking down, thinking I blacked out from a lack of oxygen,’ he said.
They then contacted the coast guard and notified his family to initiate a search operation, sharing with everyone the coordinates of where he had entered the water.
‘Friend went diving and is missing in this area by Western Sambo Reef at these coordinates coast guard now searching if anyone has a fast boat and can help look before the sun goes down,’ wrote his friend Sean Caggiano.
That was at 6.03pm, the same time to the nearest minute that the sun was due to set.
Family members hugged Gartenmayer after he was hauled onto his grandfather’s boat
Once they realized he was missing his friends contacted the Coast Guard, his family and shared coordinates of where he had gone for the last dive
The moment he was seen was captured on video and showed family members and friends cheering as Gartenmayer used his spear gun to paddle towards their boat
Gartenmayer, who was raised in the Keys, has more than a decade of experience free diving and spear fishing
Once on board he was transferred onto a coast guard boat and was taken to shore. Although his temperature was low at first he was released just an hour later
By 6.37pm Caggiano posted an update that his friend had been found.
Once on board he was transferred onto a coast guard boat and taken to shore. Although his temperature was low at first he was released just an hour later.
‘There was a bunch of bait blowing up around me. I knew that there were big fish eating that bait. I was ready to fight the night out but I’m glad I didn’t have to,’ Gartenmayer told NBC6.
‘I could see coast guard out in the distance to the west of me. I could see their blue lights, the helicopter going, doing their grid pattern,’ he said.
He described how he then heard the humming sound of the boat’s engine. ‘My mom took my dive gear. She just started hugging, crying,’ said Gartenmayer.
His cousin, Priscilla Gartenmayer, recorded key moments during the rescue mission, and uploaded videos to social media.
‘He’s the smartest most experienced diver I know on the water, he swam about two miles and before he lost his energy he grabbed 3 buoys and made a hammock for himself to float on,’ she wrote.
Gartenmayer’s mother attributed the fortune of finding her son to divine intervention.
‘It’s a miracle we landed right on my son in a needle in a haystack. You’re in the middle of the ocean, and that’s God,’ she said.