Lake Mead’s First Set of Recently Discovered Remains is Identified

Posted on: August 24, 2022, 09:30h. 

Last updated on: August 25, 2022, 03:46h.

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.

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

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.

The process for identifying remains discovered at Lake Mead is complex. It 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, according to a press release from the county.

Other Remains Still Being Investigated

Because of 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 investigating the identity of four other sets of human remains found at Lake Mead this spring.

  • On Aug. 16, partial skeletal remains were discovered in the Boulder Beach area. The remains were found in the water by a park visitor.
  • 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 this set of remains and the Aug. 6 set is 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 headshot wound. This is the only case of remains from Lake Mead being investigated by the 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. 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.