Dylan Gartenmayer has spent much of his 22 years of life in the water, since before he was even born. His family has made Key West their home for generations, and swimming, diving, and fishing are in their blood.
Dylan’s mother, Tabitha Gartenmayer, said his first taste of spearfishing was when she was pregnant.
“As natives of Key West, we love the ocean,” she told WTVJ. “I was spearfishing with Dylan in my belly.”
“I do a lot of deep free diving, so I like to go over 100 plus feet on a single breath,” Dylan said.
Dylan and two friends were out enjoying the water when they noticed the conditions had started to get dicey. They decided to get one more dive in before heading back — but that’s when trouble started.
The 22-year-old was free diving at around 35 feet when the Gulf Stream current picked him up and swept him a mile away. He was forced to hold his breath for two minutes as he was pushed along underwater.
“I had a bunch of bait floating up around me and everything,” he added. “I knew that there was, you know, big fish eating those baits, and there were sharks going to be shortly behind them. I was ready to, you know, fight the night out, but glad I didn’t have to.
“So that’s how I ended up getting separated. … They were mainly looking down, thinking I had blacked out from a lack of oxygen.”
When he surfaced, he spotted a channel marker about a mile away, and he swam to it. Along the way, he found bamboo floating and gathered it up to help keep him afloat.
Meanwhile, his friends had called family when he hadn’t come back up, and multiple rescue efforts were quickly launched by the coast guard, family and other ocean-going friends.
“And we get the call from my ex-husband,” Tabitha said. “‘Tab, something’s wrong with Dylan. They haven’t seen him in an hour.’ And from that moment on, like this feeling over me came, just like this, and I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t talk.”
Unbeknownst to all the people searching, Dylan had managed to find and connect three buoys to keep himself afloat.
“Got a horrible phone call yesterday that Dyl had went diving and hadn’t been seen for two hours!” Priscilla Gartenmayer, who identified herself as Dylan’s cousin, posted on Facebook. “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.”
From his makeshift raft, Dylan could see rescuers in the distance.
“I could see coast guard out in the distance to the west of me,” he recalled. “I could see their blue lights … the helicopter going, doing their grid pattern … My bamboo had started drifting away from me.”
As sunset faded, Dylan was spotted by Joel Cruz, a friend on the family’s boat, and everyone started screaming when they saw he was alive.
“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’s post continued.
“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 bouys and made a hammock for him self to float on!”
“I was facing to the west looking at Coast Guard, and I could hear a boat humming up behind me,” Dylan said. “My mom took my dive gear. She was just hugging me, crying.”
Dylan called the fortuitous rescue a miracle. His mother said that he was like a needle in a haystack and finding him was a result of divine providence: “That’s God.”
The video of their emotional reunion has warmed many hearts. True to his nature and family history, the incident hasn’t dampened Dylan’s spirits, and he plans to continue doing what he loves, diving and enjoying the ocean and all it has to offer.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.