First Set of Recent Lake Mead Remains Identified

The first set of human remains recently recovered from Lake Mead was identified Wednesday evening. The Clark County Coroner said they belong to Thomas Erndt of Las Vegas, who was 42 at the time of his reported drowning on Aug. 2, 2002. Erndt’s remains were discovered at Lake Mead on May 7, 2002 in the Callville Bay area.

Though his death was reported as a drowning, Clark County officials also said that Erndt’s exact cause of death has not been determined.

A formerly sunken boat remains at the bottom of what used to be Lake Mead, hundreds of feet from the receding current shoreline. (Image:

The process for identifying remains discovered at Lake Mead includes taking DNA samples, which can be affected by time and environmental conditions, and comparing findings to information regarding people who have been reported missing over the years, according to a press release from the county.

Other Remains Still Being Investigated

Due to three years of intense drought and two decades of long-term drought, parts of Lake Mead that were once underwater are now exposed and revealing long-submerged secrets. The Clark County Office of the Coroner/Medical Examiner continues to investigate the identity of four other sets of human remains found at Lake Mead since this spring.

On Aug. 16, partial skeletal remains were discovered in the Boulder Beach area. The remains were found by a park visitor in the water.
On Aug. 6, partial skeletal remains were discovered near the shoreline of the Boulder Beach area.
On July 25, partial skeletal remains were also discovered near the shoreline of the Boulder Beach area. Investigators are still trying to determine whether the this set of remains, and the Aug. 6 set, are from the same person.
On May 1, human remains were discovered in a barrel at Hemenway Harbor. They belong to a male who died from a gunshot wound to the head. This is the only case of remains from Lake Mead being investigated by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department as a homicide.

Drought May Reveal More Secrets

Lake Mead is now at 28% of full capacity. This is its lowest level since it was first filled by the completion of the Hoover Dam in 1935. Two decades of slowed snow runoff into the Colorado River has been cited as a major contributory factor.

Lake Mead is the largest US reservoir. It provides water to nearly 20 million people in California, Nevada, Arizona, and some of Mexico. The lake was last considered full in 2000, when its water level was 1,214 feet. It has fallen 174 feet since then, leaving an eerie white bathtub ring of calcium and other minerals formerly dissolved in the water along its walls.

“As water levels recede and fluctuate, it is possible that artifacts that we do and don’t know about may emerge; including human remains from previous missing person reports,” the park service wrote in a statement.

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