Last week a family in the Florida Keys was able to rescue their 22-year-old son after he was whisked away by powerful Gulf Stream currents and left stranded in the open ocean. The miraculous rescue of Dylan Gartenmayer was akin to finding a needle in a haystack, and his discovery made for a powerful and emotional reunion on the water. Priscilla Gartenmayer, Dylan’s cousin, recorded a video of that scene and shared it to TikTok, where it has been viewed thousands of times.
@kwmermaidp So thankful 💙 #lostatsea #rescue #keywest #freedive #drifting #florida ♬ original sound – Priscilla Gartenmayer
Gartenmayer, an experienced free diver and spear fishermen, later told reporters that before he was rescued he was fully prepared to spend his night fighting off sharks as we watched the sun sink down in the sky. After he was carried roughly a mile away from his boat and crew, search-and-rescue crews with the U.S. Coast Guard had spent hours searching for him to no avail. With his remaining energy, Gartenmayer located some buoys and lashed them together to fashion a small raft. Then he watched as bait balls started erupting all around him.
“I had a bunch of bait floating around me,” Gartenmayer told NBC-6 News. “I knew that there were big fish eating those baits and there were sharks that were going to be shortly behind them. I was ready to fight the night out.”
Carried Away in the Gulf Stream
On Jan. 19, Gartenmayer and a couple buddies headed out for a day of freediving and spearfishing at Western Sambo Reef, a well-known coral reef area near Key West.
Gartenmayer had made several deep dives from the boat that day while his friends kept watch from above. With weather conditions starting to deteriorate, the group decided to head back to shore soon. But Gartenmayer wanted to make one final dive, and that’s when things went south (or technically speaking, when things went North).
Gartenmayer dove roughly 35 feet down, where he was immediately carried away by the Gulf Stream, a powerful ocean current that brings warm water from the Gulf of Mexico into the Atlantic Ocean and extends along the eastern coast of North America. Unable to escape the powerful current, he was pulled to depths of 150 feet and whisked far away from his buddies in the boat. No longer able to see him, they notified Gartemayer’s family along with the Coast Guard. The USCG then sent out multiple boats and aircraft in an effort to locate him.
An exhausted Gartenmayer surfaced roughly a mile away and swam to a channel marker, according to NBC. He gathered some buoys and lashed them together into a makeshift raft. He was shivering by this point, and he used the raft to keep as much of his body out of the water as possible. He was also seeing bait balls blowing up around him, and he knew all this activity on the surface would draw predators in. He had already seen one reef shark swim past. He waited there for hours, watching the sun go down as USCG planes flew overhead but failed to spot him.
“I had a small plane fly above but they didn’t see me, and about 30 minutes later they flew back again, still didn’t see me,” Gartenmayer told reporters . “Shortly after that the sun had disappeared past the horizon. As I saw the sun disappear I knew things were starting to get a little more dire.”
Gartenmayers to the Rescue
Around the same time the USCG launched its rescue mission, Dylan’s mother Tabitha was notified of the situation by her ex-husband. The family and several other friends quickly mobilized and launched their boat to join in the search. They headed straight for Dylan’s last known GPS coordinates and began looking for their missing son.
When they reached those coordinates and didn’t find him, they continued looking in the fading light. Eventually one of Dylan’s friends pointed to a group of buoys that appeared to be tied together and looked out of place.
Roughly four hours after he was whisked away and left stranded in the open ocean, Dylan heard his family before he even saw them.
“I could hear the engines running and I knew from there that was actually my grandfather’s boat,” he said.
The Coast Guard explained that Gartenmayer’s diving skills and survival instincts made all the difference that day, adding that his decision to lash buoys together helped make him more visible and staved off hypothermia. Tabitha agreed that her son’s experience on the water was crucial, but she also gave credit to a higher power.
“It’s a miracle we landed right on my son in a needle in a haystack,” she said. “You’re in the middle of the ocean, and that’s God.”