Human Remains Discovered in Receding Lake Mead Identified as Las Vegas Man Who Drowned 20 Years Ago

Thomas Erndt drowned to death on August 2, 2002 while on a boating trip on Lake Mead with his family.
Thomas Erndt drowned to death on August 2, 2002 while on a boating trip on Lake Mead with his family.Facebook

His son was just 10 years old when he witnessed his 42-year-old dad drown on August 2, 2002.

Human remains discovered as water levels in Lake Mead receded were identified as 42-year-old Thomas Erndt, a Las Vegas man who drowned during a boating accident with his family 20 years ago, according to the coroner’s office.

"My dad was my everything and I was able to finally close some doors that were left open for years," his son, who shares the same name, wrote on Facebook.

The younger Erndt, who now lives in San Francisco, explained that they’d often take trips to Lake Mead, and at midnight, their family ritual was to take a “midnight cruise, so basically, all of us would load up in the boat, we would go into the middle of the lake and we would jump off the boat, swim around and have our fun,” he said, according to KVVU

But the trip they took on August 2, 2002 changed their lives forever. 

Erndt and his dad, along with his sister and other family members and friends, took the boat out at midnight. When no one else jumped in, Erndt recalled his father taking his shirt off, and diving in, according to KSNV.

The next thing they knew, the elder Erndt was screaming in the water. “He was a big joker,” his son told KSNV, and said they didn’t initially realize that he was drowning and needed help.

There had been no cellphone service, and the water had been pitch black with aggressive waves, KSNV reported. By the time they were able to call for help, Erndt had drowned to his death.

The younger Erndt was only 10 years old at the time of his father’s drowning, and that was the last time anyone saw him again.

Erndt was the first of five bodies discovered in Lake Mead since May as water levels recede. One set of human remains were discovered in a barrel, and authorities believe they belonged to a victim of a mob-related shooting.

Many experts believe there will be more bodies uncovered in the coming months. 

Lake Mead’s water levels have been steadily dropping since 2000, with NASA satellite imaging confirming that the man-made reservoir’s water levels have hit their lowerst since April 1937 last month, at 27% capacity.

Water levels are expected to continue to drop as a result of the on-going drought in the Midwest. Many point to the depletion of Lake Mead – a source of water for millions of people across seven states, tribal lands and northern Mexico – to be a clear sign of climate change.

Related Stories