DNA Confirms Lake Mead Body Is Man Lost over 20 Years Ago

The second of five sets of human remains found on the receding shoreline of Lake Mead has now been identified.

A Clark County Office of Communications & Strategy official has announced that the remains found near Callville Bay on May 7 have been identified by the Office of the Coroner/Medical Examiner as those of Thomas Erndt.

"Mr. Erndt was 42 years old at the time of his reported drowning on Aug. 2, 2002," Dan Kulin, a Public Information Administrator for the Clark County Office of Public Communications, said in a press release, according to KTNV Las Vegas.

His body, which was discovered by paddle boarders who came across his skeleton in the mud, was identified using DNA analysis. The cause of death has not yet been determined.

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A stock image of a sign showing where Lake Mead water levels were in 2002. The body of Thomas Erndt, who died in the lake in 2002, has now been identified. iStock / Getty Images Plus / Justin Sullivan

DNA testing works by comparing any residual DNA found in human remains with reference samples found in the person's home, or from close family members.

Lake Mead is a reservoir of the Colorado River, formed by the construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s. It has seen dramatic drops in water levels caused by the mega-drought currently scorching the Southwest.

The U.S. Drought Monitor has classified Clark County in Nevada and Mohave County in Arizona, where Lake Mead is situated, as currently experiencing "exceptional drought." According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), Lake Mead's water is 1,043.29 feet above sea level, as of August 21.

As of August 15, the lake was at just 27 percent of its total water capacity.

The announcement of Erndt's identification marks the first official naming of any of the bodies that have been revealed on the shoreline of Lake Mead as water levels have dropped throughout the summer. The first remains, found on May 1, were discovered in a barrel riddled with bullet holes, leading officials to suspect a homicide.

The third and fourth sets of remains, found in the Boulder Beach area of the lake on July 25 and Aug. 6, respectively, are suspected to be from the same person. It has been suggested that this was army veteran Kenneth Funk, who drowned saving his wife on June 16, 2004.

The fifth and most recent discovery also occurred near Boulder Beach, on August 16, but no other information regarding this body has been released yet.

"The worsening drought crisis impacting the Colorado River Basin is driven by the effects of climate change, including extreme heat and low precipitation," said Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau in a USBR press release.

Lake Mead's water levels are expected to drop over the next few years as the effects of climate change worsen: longer-term forecasts by the USBR suggest the water level will decline to 1,019 feet by August 2023 and 1,013 feet in July 2024.

This may result in many more bodies being uncovered, having lain undiscovered for decades.

"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.

"Most are just legitimately drowning victims but I'm sure there are some nefarious ones out there, like the news is reporting and the [body in the] barrel. I'm sure there are going to be more."

Newsweek has contacted Clark County officials for comment.