When Dick de Bruin lost his camera during a scuba diving expedition off the Caribbean island of Aruba, he held out little hope of seeing it again.
The Royal Dutch Navy sergeant could only watch helplessly as it floated away while he and his dive team explored a wreck.
Yet seven months, 1,100 miles later and one hungry turtle attack later, the camera is back with Mr de Bruin after an extraordinary ocean odyssey, and all thanks to the tireless investigative skills of a Florida coastguard.
Paul Shultz spotted the bright red Nikon camera pounding against the rocks of a marina in Key West, Miami, on May 16. It was covered in six months’ worth of crusty sea growth and at first Mr Shultz mistook it for a rotting tomato.
Inside the waterproof plastic case, the camera was almost pristine and Mr Shultz was able to view the photographs and video it contained.
There were pictures of two men preparing to scuba dive and a family nestled together on a sofa. There was a mysterious relic settled deep into the sea floor.
There was also a short video of splashing water and a brief glimpse of what looked like a fin, with the camera thrashing around under the control of something that clearly was not human.
“There was nothing on the pictures that said this camera belongs to so and so,” Mr Shultz said.
Undeterred, he took his hunt online.
Under the name “Aquahound”, he uploaded the images to Scubaboard.com, an online diving community, asking for help. Within days, users identified the location as Aruba, a Dutch island off the Venezuelan coast.
A plane’s tail number was visible in one shot, and a computer search showed the aircraft was on the island on the day the photograph was taken. There was also a school poster written in Dutch.
Mr Shultz duly posted the pictures on the travel websites Cruisecritic and Aruba.com, and two days later a local woman contacted him to say she recognised the children in the photos as classmates of her son. Camera and owner were duly reunited.
“I have a smile on my face. I can’t stop laughing about it,” Sgt de Bruin said. Experts said the buoyancy of the plastic case combined with the ocean currents could have ensured its safe passage to Key West.
The mysterious object was the anchor he was salvaging from the USS Powell for a Second World War memorial. The video, which has been viewed more than 200,000 times on YouTube, also has an explanation.
Close examination found that it shows an encounter with a sea turtle, who mistook the camera for a meal and inadvertently switched it on. The date is January