On January 19, a 21-year-old free diver named Dylan Gartenmayer had a close call with disaster while diving more than five miles off the Florida Keys.
Gartenmayer, who is an experienced diver and spear fisherman, had been diving with two friends around the West Sambo Reef. However, while he was beneath the surface, a current swept him 150 feet below the surface and spat him out a mile away from his friends.
“I do a lot of deep free diving, so I like to go over 100 plus feet on a single breath,” Gartenmayer said.
As soon as his friends realized he was missing, they notified both the US Coast Guard and Gartenmayer’s family. A search party was immediately assembled, and they raced against the setting sun to find Gartenmayer.
“I was watching the sun drop pretty quickly,” said Gartenmayer in a video posted to social media.
Meanwhile, Gartenmayer had emerged from the water and swam back towards the reef. He found some mooring buoys and cut them free, using them to tie together a makeshift raft.
As he lay on his raft, Gartenmayer watched the sun set over shark-infested waters. He said that fishing bait started washing up around him, attracting the attention of sharks.
“I’d just seen a reef shark swam past me,” he said. “I had a bunch of bait start blowing up around, I could see mackerel skyrocketing.”
He described how he used the buoys to keep his body as far out of the water as possible, but he was starting to feel cold and numb.
“I was starting to shiver at that point and my hands were starting to feel a little numb, so were my toes, so I knew this was starting to get serious,” he said.
A rescue mission involving coast guard boats and aircraft was underway, but they were unable to spot him. Gartenmayer said that a small plane flew above him, but they didn’t see him. He watched as the sun disappeared past the horizon, and he knew that things were getting dire.
“I had a small plane fly above but they didn’t see me,” he said. “About 30 minutes later they flew back again, still didn’t see me. Shortly after that the sun had disappeared past the horizon. Looking to the east it was pitch black, looking to the west you could see the remnants of the sunset. As I saw the sun disappear I knew things were starting to get a little more dire.”
But then, by some miracle, his family’s search party found him around 6:30pm. His parents and other family members on board his grandfather’s boat ended up driving right on top of him.
@kwmermaidp So thankful 💙 #lostatsea #rescue #keywest #freedive #drifting #florida ♬ original sound – Priscilla Gartenmayer
“By some miracle my parents and everybody else on board my grandfather’s boat ended up driving and basically landing right on top of me,” he said. “I could hear the engines running and I knew from there that was actually my grandfather’s boat.”
Gartenmayer said that he could hear the engines running and knew that it was his grandfather’s boat. He was rescued and taken to shore, where he was checked out by medical personnel.
@kwmermaidp Replying to @yari43770 ♬ original sound – Priscilla Gartenmayer
“As natives of Key West, we love the ocean. I was spearfishing with Dylan in my belly,’ his mother Tabitha told NBC6.
“Unfortunately missing diver cases often do not usually have positive outcomes,” US Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Elizabeth Tatum told GMA. “There are a lot of elements that play out against people.”
Although Gartenmayer’s temperature was low, he was otherwise unharmed. He attributed his survival to his extensive experience diving and his ability to stay calm under pressure. He also thanked his friends, family, and the US Coast Guard for their quick action in trying to find him.
@kwmermaidp Replying to @chercbear part 3? I guess lol everyone keeps asking for more this is the only other video I have. I told Dylan he’s going viral on tik tok he said he will do a story time soon ❤️ #missingdiver #freedive #rescue #familyovereverything #keywestfl #drifting ♬ original sound – Priscilla Gartenmayer