22-year-old diver lost at sea for 2 hours celebrates 'miracle' after family rescue

Dylan Gartenmayer, 22, of Key West, Florida.
Dylan Gartenmayer, 22, of Key West, Florida. | Screenshot/NBC Miami

A 22-year-old spear fisherman from Key West, Florida, who got lost at sea for two hours last Thursday after he was pulled away from the coast by the Gulf Stream, is celebrating a “miracle” after he was rescued alive by his own family before authorities could reach him.

The emotional rescue of the fisherman, Dylan Gartenmayer, was captured on video by his cousin, Priscilla Gartenmayer, who declared that “God was definitely on our side” in her family’s rescue of her cousin.

“Got a horrible phone call yesterday that Dyl had went diving and hadn’t been seen for two hours! After calling the fam together we hopped on the contender and had the scariest boat ride of our life out to his last known coordinates. God was definitely on our side because as soon as we stopped running out and started looking, we spotted him right away at almost the exact coordinates we were given,” Priscilla Gartenmayer wrote in a Facebook post on Friday.

In three videos posted to his cousin’s TikTok account, which have gone viral with millions of likes and views, Dylan Gartenmayer also explained how he was drift diving with his friends when he got in trouble at sea.

“I was drift diving and they were following me pretty good [on a boat],” he explained in one video.

“We started going more east, more east. The Gulf Stream was coming in a little along the east. I’d made a dive a little bit longer than the ones I had been making and the current had picked up considerably I’d notice whenever I was on the bottom,” he said.

Eventually, he got dragged so far from the boat he could no longer see it.

“Whenever I’d surface, they’d never see me resurface. So the current, it ended up taking me faster and faster [away] from them. And I got to a point where the boat had disappeared. At that point I realized things were starting to get serious,” the diver said.

The 22-year-old fisherman said he began making life-saving moves after that, like dropping weights from his belt to keep them from pulling him down.

He said as the cold water began getting to him, providence sent a piece of drifting bamboo his way.

“I got lucky and a piece of bamboo that was big enough to float me ended up drifting about 30 feet east of me so I swam over to that and hung on that for a while. [I] had a big sea turtle come up around me and started to get closer and closer to me and I had the idea if I could grab on to it maybe I could scare him but I knew that wasn’t going to work so he ended up leaving,” he said.

Dylan Gartenmayer explained that as he clung to the piece of bamboo, he decided that he needed to keep from drifting.

“I knew that the further and further I got out the less of a chance that I would be found and it’s taking me out deeper and deeper so I had about a mile and a quarter swim to make it to the nearest reef,” he said.

The nearest reef from where he was at the time was the Western Sambo and he began swimming toward it.

He eventually got to a shoal marker near the reef and tried to climb it but he realized there was nothing there for him to hold on to so he ended up cutting three different mooring balls from a line and tying them together to make himself “a little raft.”

“[I] floated around on that and just kinda laying on my chest so I could start trying to conserve body heat,” he said.

The young diver explained that as he waited for salvation, his hands and toes began to get a little numb and danger began lurking around him in the water as it got dark.

“I was watching the sun drop pretty quickly, I’d imagine this was about 5 p.m. or so. I had a small plane fly above, they didn’t see me. About 30 minutes later they flew back again, still didn’t see me. And then shortly after that, the sun disappeared across the horizon. Looking to the east it was pitch black, looking to the west, you could see the remnants of the sunset,” he said.

As he watched the sun disappear, Dylan Gartenmayer said things started to get a little “dire.”

“I’d just seen a reef shark swim past me,” he said, noting that he could see bait and mackerel around him which indicated that there was a “bunch of activity” in the water where he, at this point, had only 10 feet of visibility.

“Getting later into the darkness I could see the Coast Guard out there searching for me where I was at originally. And seeing the chopper going back and forth doing its grid pattern. They would have come and found me eventually. But by some miracle, my parents and everybody else on board my grandfather’s boat had ended up driving and basically landed right on top of me, which was nice,” he said.

Priscilla Gartenmayer told NBC 6 that it was an emotional experience for her because she and her cousin grew up together.

"That was really emotional for me,” she said. “So, you know, we know how lucky we are to … still have Dylan here.”

Coast Guard Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator, Lieutenant Commander Elizabeth Tatum, praised the young fisherman for his resourcefulness in the water because oftentimes, divers who find themselves in that situation do not emerge alive.

“Too often missing diver cases don’t have positive outcomes, and the circumstances of this case didn’t forecast for one," she said. "Sunset, weather conditions and Dylan’s outfit were playing against us in this case, but his foresight to lash mooring balls together to make him a bigger target in the water was smart.”

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