A family captured the moment they found their son who'd been lost at sea for hours in a viral TikTok — 'this is basically like winning lottery odds'

composite image of screenshots taken of @kwmermaidp TikTok and @capt.dyl Instagram stories showing Dylan's rescue
nullTikTok;@kwmermaidp;Instagram;@capt.dyl
  • 22-year-old Dylan Gartenmayer was lost at sea on January 19 after a current carried him into deep waters.

  • Gartenmayer's family piled into a boat and sped to his last-known location to find him.

  • In a stroke of luck, they found him — just as Gartenmayer was preparing to "fight the night out."

A Key West family captured the moment they found their son, 22-year-old Dylan Gartenmayer, on Thursday after he'd been lost at sea for hours.

According to a viral January 20 TikTok (since viewed more than 31 million times), the US Coast Guard had been searching for Gartenmayer for "almost two hours" by the time his family piled into his grandfather's boat and sped towards Gartenmayer's last-known coordinates.

Gartenmayer's cousin, Priscilla Gartenmayer, who grew up diving with him, captured the events. On January 21, she shared a video she told viewers a neighbor had sent of the family going "full throttle down the canal to save Dylan," showing a boat zooming by docked boats that rock in its wake.

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Priscilla's viral rescue video begins with voices yelling ecstatically — calling Dylan's name and shouting, "there he is!" as friends and family scream and jump up and down.

In a series of stories posted to Gartenmayer's Instagram account (@dylan.capt) on January 21, Gartenmayer explained that he'd been "drift diving" when a powerful Gulf Stream current had carried him away from his companions. (In drift diving, scuba divers are carried by the water's tide).

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Gartenmayer estimated he'd been swept about a mile away — from 35 feet to 150 feet in depth — and had held his breath underwater for what he estimated to be two minutes, according to an NBC Miami interview.

He said the boat had disappeared, and he realized "that things were starting to get serious."

Already starting to shiver and lucky enough to have found a piece of bamboo he used to float on, Gartenmayer decided to "make a swim for it" to the nearest reef over a mile away. "I knew that the further and further I got out, the less of a chance I'd be found, and it was taking me out deeper and deeper," he said.

Eventually, he cut off three floating mooring balls used by snorkelers and created a raft to "conserve body heat" with numb hands and toes. As the sun dropped, he said things were getting "more dire" as a reef shark swam by him and noticed increased activity among the animals.

"By some miracle," Gartenmayer said, "my parents and everybody else on board my grandfather's boat had ended up driving and basically landing right on top of me." Gartenmayer credited his friend, Joel Cruz, with spotting him off in the distance, hanging onto the floating balls. Gartenmayer waved his spear to catch their attention.

"Imagine feeling hopeless, and then there is everyone who has ever loved you coming to your rescue," one viewer commented.

In his Instagram stories, Gartenmayer said the accident "happened in an instant" and expressed "no blame" for the companions he became separated from him as well as gratitude for the Coast Guard. He did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

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In a follow-up TikTok on January 20, Priscilla captioned a video of Gartenmayer being pulled onto the boat and into the arms of a woman and man who hugged him, giving Dylan, who was "shivering really badly," body warmth.

"We've lived in Key West for many generations," Priscilla wrote in a caption. "And we have fallen family members who we let to rest at sea and we really feel like they protected him."

"I was spear-fishing with Dylan in my belly," Tabitha Gartenmayer told NBC. Upon learning her son was lost at sea, Tabitha described feeling like she couldn't breathe.

Once the family pulled him out of the water, the coast guard picked Gartenmayer up and checked his vitals and, according to Priscilla's on-screen caption, found he had a "low core temperature, but that's about it."

"He spent the night in his bed, safe and sound," she added. "We are so grateful."

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"I don't think anybody understands this is basically like winning lottery odds that they found him," another, liked more than 425K times, wrote one commenter.

"I was ready to, you know, fight the night out — but I didn't have to," Gartenmayer told NBC.

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