A Key West family known for spearfishing and free diving got the scare of a lifetime Thursday, and it has gone viral on TikTok.
Family members said Dylan Gartenmayer, 22, went missing at sea for several hours after getting caught in the powerful Gulf Stream current.
"I had a bunch of bait floating up around me and everything," Gartenmayer said. "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, but I'm glad I didn't have to."
Dylan's mother, Tabitha Gartenmayer, said their family has called Key West home for generations.
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"As natives of Key West, we love the ocean. I was spearfishing with Dylan in my belly," said Tabitha.
Dylan said he has been diving and spearfishing since childhood.
"And I do a lot of deep free diving, so I like to go over 100-plus feet on a single breath," he said.
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He said he was free diving Thursday while two of his friends kept a watchful eye on him from the boat above.
Dylan told NBC 6 that conditions on the water were getting worse by the minute, so they decided to head back to land.
But prior to leaving, he said he wanted to fit in one more dive.
"So I ran back out and that's where everything started happening," said Dylan.
"And we get the call from my ex-husband," said Tabitha. "'Tab, something's wrong with Dylan. They haven't seen him in an hour.’ And from that moment on, this feeling came over me, just like this, and I couldn't breathe. I couldn't talk."
Dylan said he was free diving at about 35 feet, when the current swept him out to waters as deep as 150 feet.
He said he was under water for almost two minutes, all the while holding his breath.
"So that's how I ended up getting separated,” said Dylan. “…They were mainly looking down, thinking I blacked out from a lack of oxygen."
He told NBC 6 he resurfaced about a mile away from where he was diving originally, before swimming just over a mile to a channel marker, while clutching bamboo he found drifting in the water.
“I could see Coast Guard out in the distance to the west of me. I could see their blue lights, the helicopter going, doing their grid pattern,” said Dylan. “My bamboo had started drifting away from me."
Meanwhile, the Gartenmayers were mobilizing their rescue mission.
“[Tabitha] was very much insisting, drop that boat right now,” said family friend Jamie Cooke.
"Let's go,” said Tabitha. “I’m sure you've seen the videos of us going a little bit fast down the canal for my son's life."
A neighbor’s surveillance video captured the Gartenmayer family speeding through a canal on their way to the ocean to search for Dylan, who they said had been missing for about three hours.
With the U.S. Coast Guard searching by air and sea, the Gartenmayers went to Dylan's last known coordinates.
"We had the coordinates that were given to us, but he obviously wasn't on those,” said Tabitha.
With eyes glued to the water, they kept searching.
“Joel looks to the right and he sees the buoys,” said Tabitha.
She said Dylan's friend Joel spotted an unusual sight on the water — buoys that appeared to be tied together.
Dylan said he’d cut and tied together what are known as mooring balls to make a makeshift raft.
"Ended up cutting three of those from reef, tying up a little hammock,” said Dylan.
Shortly after spotting the buoys, they spotted Dylan.
"I was facing to the west looking at the Coast Guard, and I could hear a boat humming up behind me,” said Dylan.
The boat Dylan heard heading towards him was packed with his family and friends.
"My mom took my dive gear. She just started hugging, crying,” said Dylan.
Dylan's cousin, Priscilla Gartenmayer, shot the now viral TikTok videos.
She and Dylan grew up diving together.
"That was really emotional for me. So, you know, we know how lucky we are to have so still have Dylan here,” said Priscilla.
The Coast Guard told NBC 6 that it is grateful to know that Dylan was found safe.
"Too often missing diver cases don’t have positive outcomes, and the circumstances of this case didn’t forecast for one," said Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator, Lieutenant Commander Elizabeth Tatum. "Sunset, weather conditions and Dylan’s outfit were playing against us in this case, but his foresight to lash mooring balls together to make him a bigger target in the water was smart.”
The family said by way of a miracle, Dylan gets to dive another day.
It’s something Dylan said he fully intends to do again in the near future.