Senior Editor
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The Inertia

On January 19, a 22-year-old free diver came very close to dying. Dylan Gartenmayer was diving off the coast of Key West, Florida, when he was dragged into deeper water by the current. When he finally resurfaced nearly two minutes later, he was gasping for air and a mile away from the boat he was diving from. Miraculously, his family found him hours later.

Gartenmayer is an experienced free diver. He routinely breaks the 100-foot mark on his dives, but the ocean is a place where anything can happen. After finding himself in a powerful Gulf Stream current, Gartenmayer was dragged into even deeper waters.

The group was getting ready to head back to shore when Gartenmayer decided to get one final dive in. The current, though, had other plans. According to reports, he was dragged down about 150 feet.

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When he was able to reach the surface, his boat was just a speck in the distance and getting smaller by the second. Using a piece of bamboo that was floating nearby for a bit of help, he swam nearly a mile to a channel marker, where he hung onto mooring balls and caught his breath. It was nearing evening, so Gartenmayer knew he was in a bad spot.

“I was just getting dragged farther and farther, and I could watch the boat just slowly getting smaller,” he said in an interview with TODAY on Jan. 25. “It was definitely, ‘OK, this is starting to get serious here, for sure.’”

It was nearly nightfall, and Gartenmayer was alone in the middle of the ocean. The group he was with lost sight of him, and the diver realized he might be out there for a long stint.

“Watching that sun drop was kind of like making my heart sink,” he remembered. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is going to be a long night out here.’ That was my idea with the buoys, was tying those together and trying to get up as high as I could, keep a little warmth and put less of my body in the water for any potential predators.”

By then, the Coast Guard was already on the hunt. Gartenmayer’s mother Tabitha, understandably, was terrified. She decided not to sit idly by and wait for the Coast Guard to find him and launched her own rescue mission. And against all odds, she found him.

In the vastness of the ocean, Tabitha, aboard a vessel piloted by family and friends of Dylan, spotted him still hanging onto the buoys, hours after he’d disappeared. The moment they spotted him was caught on camera by family members.

“By some miracle, my parents and everybody else on board my grandfather’s boat had ended up driving and basically landing right on top of me,” he said.

For her part, Tabitha is incredibly grateful to have her son back in one piece.

“He was so smart to get the buoys, to know that his head wasn’t going to be enough to find him,” Tabitha said. ““It definitely had to be a miracle. It had to be God protecting him the whole time, our angels above, because for us to land right on him, you could see it’s a needle in a haystack out there.”

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