Dylan Gartenmayer has been scuba diving and spear fishing along the Florida coast since he was 10 years old. That experience helped him survive a terrifying ordeal that left him stranded at sea for hours.
The 21-year-old was freediving at the Western Sambo Reef near Key West Thursday afternoon when a strong current swept him away from his boat.
When it resurfaced, the current had carried it so far that his two friends never saw it rise again. He soon disappeared from sight, his cousin Priscilla Gartenmayer told CNN.
His friends searched the choppy waters for half an hour, then called the Coast Guard to help with the search. Gartenmayer could still see the boat, he told people later, but they couldn’t see him.
Gartenmayer came across a bamboo stick and used it to help him float until he could swim through the current back to the reef, his cousin said.
By the time he had swum about two miles, it was around 5 p.m. and his friends had left because their boat had no lights, his cousin said.
Exhausted, Gartenmayer cut three buoys to create a hammock-like device that helped him stay afloat. While he was focused on surviving, his friends and family worked frantically to find and rescue him, his cousin said.
“I got a call from someone on the boat Dylan was diving from, he was missing for two hours and I asked them to send me the coordinates,” his friend Sean Caggiano told CNN. “I went to his grandfather’s house to meet his family and go look for him.”
Within 15 minutes, family and friends gathered and got on his grandfather’s boat to go looking for Dylan, Priscilla Gartenmayer said.
“My first thought was that he passed out while diving and drowned. It was horrible, the worst feeling I have ever felt,” she said.
The family entered the coordinates of the place where Dylan was last seen and ran towards it at high speed. The light was fading and they didn’t have long before the darkness made the effort to rescue him more difficult.
“All was quiet in the boat until the lantern struck him and he raised his hands; we finally knew it was okay,” Priscilla Gartenmayer said.
In a video of the rescue posted on Facebook, his family members jumped when they saw Dylan alive.
Moments later, his family dragged him, shivering, into the boat. Videos shared on Facebook show his family members hugging and squeezing him, yelling “Oh my God” and saying his name over and over again. Dylan’s first request was for water, his cousin said.
CNN has reached out to Dylan Gartenmayer to hear his account of the ordeal.
The Coast Guard arrived, checked on Gartenmayer and found that her core temperature was slightly low. They took him to the station to observe him for about an hour until everything was back to normal, his family said. CNN has reached out to the Coast Guard for comment.
Dylan Gartenmayer has been consistently diving and fishing for 11 years. His Instagram account is full of photos of him holding pompanos, groupers, red croakers, wahoo and other fish he has caught.
“If it was anyone else, I don’t think I would have had the same result,” Priscilla Gartenmayer said. “I still knew where she was, I knew which way the earth was. That is the reason she survived.”