Tragedy was averted when Boca Raton resident Ryan Dingle was rescued after more than four hours lost at sea.
Dingle, 20, and his friend Nick Hamilton were in the Florida Keys this week when they headed out for some late afternoon scuba diving. However, there were immediately two mistakes made - Dingle did not use a dive flag and he did not dive with a buddy.
"The plan was to follow the bubbles," Dingle said.
When he started his dive, the weather was beautiful and the water was clear. As any Floridian knows, especially in the summer, perfect weather can give way to storms in the blink of an eye.
"I'm coming up, about to do my safety stop 15 feet below the surface and I just see the water above me....white caps...torrential downpour. I swam up to a perfect storm," Dingle explained. "I could only see about 30 feet and the boat was nowhere to be found."
For the first 20 minutes Dingle stayed in one spot, hoping not to get lost. As more time passed Dingle realized help was not coming and the danger of being carried out to sea was increasing. It was time to take action.
Creatively using every item he had, Dingle managed to anchor himself in an area approximately 25 feet deep. Shooting his fishing spear through a sponge, Dingle used that rope and connected it to his inflatable safety tube, monofilament, and even his tank to make a long enough tether to get on the surface of the water while remaining in place.
"I was more focused on getting found, than finding my way to shore."
He settled in to wait while back on shore the Coast Guard was launching a search and rescue operation. "They came over me while it was still light, around 7:30pm. I took my fins off, flailed them around, made as much commotion as I could. I guess they just didn't get a good eye on me...then it started to get dark."
At the same time his parents, Amy and Steve Dingle, were making the drive south not knowing if their son would be found.
That's when the lights from a Customs and Border Patrol boat flashed nearby.
"They were gonna miss me by a few hundred yards. I made the decision to leave my anchor and swim after them. Thank God I was able to get their attention," Dingle said. "They looked pretty shocked to see me and I was nothing more than excited, honestly."
An ordeal lasting over four hours thankfully had a happy ending as the 20-year-old was reunited with his family. And Dingle promises he won't skip the dive flag in the future.
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