Dylan Gartenmayer has been diving and spearfishing off the coast of Florida since he was ten years old. That experience helped him survive a terrifying ordeal that stranded him at sea for hours.
The 21-year-old was free diving at the Western Sambo Reef near Key West on Thursday afternoon when he was swept away from his boat by a strong current.
The current had pulled him so far away by the time he resurfaced that his two friends never saw him come back up. According to his cousin Priscilla Gartenmayer, he quickly vanished from view.
His friends scoured the choppy waters for half an hour before calling the Coast Guard for assistance. Gartenmayer later told people that he could still see the boat, but they couldn’t see him.
Gartenmayer found a bamboo stick and used it to float until he was able to swim across the current back to the reef, according to his cousin.
It was around 5 p.m. when he finished the roughly two-mile swim, and his friends had left because their boat didn’t have any lights, according to his cousin.
Gartenmayer, exhausted, cut three buoys to make a hammock-like device that kept him afloat. While he was focused on survival, his friends and family worked tirelessly to locate and rescue him, according to his cousin.
“I got a call from someone on the boat that Dylan was diving from that he was missing for two hours and I had them send me the coordinates,” Dylan’s friend Sean Caggiano told CNN. “I went to his grandfather’s house to get with his family and go find him.”
Priscilla Gartenmayer said that within 15 minutes, family and friends gathered and jumped into their grandfather’s boat to go find Dylan.
“The first thought was that he blacked out while diving and drowned. It was horrible — the worst feeling I’ve ever felt,” she said.
The family entered the coordinates of Dylan’s last known location and dashed there at high speed. The light was fading, and they didn’t have long before darkness made their rescue mission more difficult.
“Everything was silent on the boat until the flashlight hit him and he put his hands up — we finally knew he was OK,” Priscilla Gartenmayer said.
When his family members saw Dylan alive, they jumped up and down in a video of the rescue that was posted on Facebook.
Shivering, his family dragged him onto the boat moments later. Videos posted to Facebook show his family members hugging and squeezing him, crying “Oh my God” and repeatedly saying his name. Dylan’s first request, according to his cousin, was for water.
CNN has reached out to Dylan Gartenmayer to get his side of the story.
The Coast Guard arrived and discovered Gartenmayer’s core temperature was slightly low. According to his family, they took him to the station for about an hour of observation until he was back to normal. The Coast Guard has been contacted by CNN for comment.
Dylan Gartenmayer has been diving and fishing on a regular basis for the past 11 years. His Instagram is filled with photos of him holding pompano, grouper, red drum, wahoo, and other fish he’s caught.
“If he was anyone else, I don’t think it would’ve been the same outcome,” Priscilla Gartenmayer said. “He still knew where he was, he knew which way land was. That’s the reason he survived.”