A 21-year-old Florida freediver was caught in the powerful Gulf Stream, which swept him into shark-infested waters – before his elated family found him hours later shouting “there he is!”
Dylan Gartenmayer was free diving Thursday — holding his breath about 30 feet (10 m) underwater — near Key West while two friends waited in their boat, NBC Miami reported.
Conditions soon deteriorated and the group headed for shore, where Gartenmayer decided he wanted to dive in one more time.
“So I ran back outside and that’s where everything started happening,” he told the outlet.
Suddenly, Gartenmayer was swept up in the current and dragged 150 feet down, where he was able to hold his breath for about two minutes before surfacing.
He said he swam about a mile to a channel marker while holding a piece of bamboo floating in the water.
Meanwhile, his friends and family became concerned about his whereabouts.
Gartenmayer’s mother Tabitha said she received a disturbing phone call from her ex-husband.
“Tab, something is wrong with Dylan! They haven’t seen him in an hour,” she told the NBC station. “And from that moment on, this feeling came over me, just like that, and I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t talk.”
The family quickly mobilized and set out to find their missing loved one, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, as they raced to his last known location.
“We had the coordinates that were given to us, but it clearly wasn’t on there,” Tabitha told NBC Miami.
Meanwhile, Gartenmayer said he glimpsed the Coast Guard in the distance.
“I could see their blue lights, the helicopter flying, follow their grid pattern. My bamboo started to float away from me,” he said.
Gartenmayer and his cousin Priscilla documented the drama in a series of poignant social media posts, Insider reported.
“I knew that the farther and farther I got out, the less likely I was to be found, and it took me deeper and deeper out,” said Gartenmayer.
Gartenmayer said he cut off three lake balls and made a raft to “conserve body heat” as sharks swam in the area.
“By some miracle, my parents and everyone else aboard my grandfather’s boat ended up on top of me,” he said.
Gartenmayer said he swung his spear to get their attention and his friend Joel Cruz finally saw him.
Priscilla has made several TikTok videos that have gone viral, including one where the family and friends scream in excitement when they see the stranded diver.
“There he is!” they hear screaming.
In a follow-up post, Priscilla captioned a video of her exhausted and freezing cousin being pulled onto the boat and into the arms of his rescuers.
“We have lived in Key West for many generations,” she wrote. “And we are fallen relatives that we put to rest at sea and we really feel like they protected him.”
The Coast Guard checked Gartenmayer’s vitals and found he had a “low core temperature, but that’s about it,” Priscilla wrote.
“He spent the night in his bed, safe and sound. We are so grateful,” she added.
A Coast Guard official said the agency was grateful Gartenmayer had been recovered safely.
“Too often, missing diver cases have no positive outcome, and the circumstances of this case had no prediction of it,” said Lt. Cmdr. Elizabeth Tatum, a search and rescue mission coordinator, told NBC Miami.
“Sunset, weather conditions and Dylan’s outfit played against us in this case, but his foresight to string together lake balls to make him a bigger target in the water was clever,” she added.