Lake Mead Drowning Victim's 10-Year-Old Son Thought He Was Playing in Water

A son has shared his experiences from the night his father drowned, after his parent's body was identified as the second of five sets of human remains found in Lake Mead earlier this year.

The body, which was found near Callville Bay on May 7, was identified by the Clark County Medical Examiner via DNA analysis as that of Thomas Erndt, who drowned in Lake Mead on August 2, 2002, at age 42.

Tom Erndt, who was 10 at the time, said he thought his father was playing a prank on the family. The family had taken their boat to Callville Bay to camp on the shore and swim in the lake's midnight waters.

lake mead boat
Stock image of a boat on Lake Mead. Thomas Erndt, who drowned during a night-time swim from his family's boat, has been identified as a body found on the lake's shores this month. iStock / Getty Images Plus

"He was a big joker and stuff too," Tom Erndt told KSNV. "At first it was like, 'Oh, I'm drowning hahaha,' kind of thing, right? And it turned into screaming and yelling, and 'I need help!'"

By the time the family managed to call 911, it was too late. Despite search and rescue efforts and SCUBA divers investigating the waters near to where the boat had been, no body was ever recovered.

"He stayed in the category of missing. My mind (went) through 100 different scenarios of what was possible," Tom Erndt told KRON.

Lake Mead, a reservoir formed by the construction of the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, has seen five bodies uncovered on its shores this year as a result of the huge drops in water levels caused by the mega-drought baking the U.S. southwest. As of August 15, the lake was at just 27 percent of its total water capacity. It is expected to drop further.

This may result in more bodies, lying undisturbed below the water line until now, being uncovered.

"There are a lot of bodies which have still not been found at the bottom of Lake Mead," Steve Schafer, a local resident and the owner of environmental services company Earth Resource Group, told the Las Vegas Review Journal. "I'm sure there are going to be more."

On August 23 2022, Tom Erdnt was told that his DNA sample matched that of the body suspected to be his father's.

"'We found your father,' [the coroner] said. I didn't know what to say. I was in shock. It was surreal. It means he's at peace," Erndt said.

"I've always thought something would pop up, but just knowing that in my head, I guess it kept me from hoping that maybe there's a possibility that I would see my dad again," he said. "Now that I got this news, I know that I'm not going to. So it's been very hard."

Thomas Ernst is the only body from the lake to be positively identified thus far. Two of the other sets of human remains, both found in the Boulder Beach area of the lake on July 25 and Aug. 6, are suspected to both be that of army veteran Kenneth Funk, who drowned saving his wife on June 16, 2004.

Another of the remains is thought to be associated with criminal activity: the first body found on the lake's shores this year, found on May 1, was stuffed inside a barrel.

"I don't want my dad affiliated with any of that. And it's hard just seeing on the news," Tom Erndt said regarding the backstories of other Lake Mead bodies.

Tom Erndt and his family now have the closure they had been searching for since 2002.

"He was the most awesome father I could ever ask for. I miss him every day," he said. "I guess now it's just one day at a time until I can physically let him go."