For a moment, the family members look out at the black speck in the water—fearful, waiting. Then they erupt in cheers, and no wonder. Their loved one, 22-year-old spearfishing diver Dylan Gartenmayer, had then been missing for at least three hours, per NBC Miami. Gartenmayer had been free diving at the Western Sambo Reef near Key West on Thursday as friends watched him from the boat above; during his final dive of the day, the Gulf Stream current carried him off, CNN reports. Gartenmayer tells NBC that when he surfaced about two minutes later he was a mile from the boat and out of the sight of his friends. Clutching a piece of bamboo he found to stay afloat, he began to swim back.
By the time he made it back to the boat's position, his friends had departed because night was falling and they didn't have lights. Unbeknownst to Gartenmayer, who could see the Coast Guard searching for him from a distance, family and friends were rushing to the place he'd last been seen three hours earlier, per NBC. A surveillance video shows their boat speeding through a canal to reach the ocean. "The first thought was that he blacked out while diving and drowned," cousin Priscilla Gartenmayer tells CNN. It was "the worst feeling I've ever felt." They initially saw no sign of Gartenmayer in his black wetsuit. Then they spotted a group of white buoys. Gartenmayer tells NBC that he'd cut three mooring balls and tied them together to form "a little hammock" that kept him afloat.
From behind, he heard an approaching boat. In a viral video, the boat passengers take in the black mass entangled in buoys in silence. Seeing Gartenmayer raise his arms, they break out in jubilant cheers, jumping up and down. A woman believed to be Gartenmayer's mother hugs him the moment he climbs aboard. Lt. Cdr. Elizabeth Tatum, a search and rescue mission coordinator, says Gartenmayer's foresight to make himself "a bigger target" led to a happy ending, though "the circumstances of this case didn't forecast for one," per NBC. His family calls it a "miracle," per Inside Edition. Gartenmayer's body temperature was slightly low but was back to normal in about an hour. (Read more rescue stories.)