As Lake Mead waters hit an all-time low, one family is finally getting closure in the latest update to the national recreation area’s saga of human remains.
Tina Bushman was 14 years old when she saw her father drown off the side of their boat. Two days ago, the Clark County Coroner’s Office called to tell her that they had identified his remains, finally, after twenty years.
Skeletal remains of her father, Thomas P. Erndt, were discovered on May 7 at Callville Bay in Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Erndt was 42 years old at the time of his death on August 2, 2002.
Erndt, an airplane mechanic, took his family to Lake Mead “nearly every other weekend,” his daughter says. Now, they’re finally gaining closure after her and her brother’s DNA identified their father’s skeleton. But the discovery has also brought back the horror of that day.
“We heard, ‘Help,’ three times and we couldn’t find him,” Bushman recalls. Yet “at the same time, I feel a lot of peace, a lot of closure. It was his favorite place. It was where he wanted to be.”
Lake Mead is Drying Up, Revealing Her Secrets
Bushman’s story corroborates a witness report to park rangers on the same date of a male seen swimming without a life jacket near Callville Bay, NPS reports. This man, now certainly Erndt, was “struggling out in the water” as his children were unable to help amidst large waves.
Bushman says her father jumped off their boat for a simple swim, but he never came back. His remains are now the first positive identification in a bizarre summer full of Lake Mead human remains.
The discoveries began on May 1, after the lake had already dropped to its lowest level since April 1937 (per NASA’s report/satellite monitoring). That day, a body surfaced inside a barrel on the shore. Las Vegas locals attribute this finding, in which the victim died of a gunshot wound to the head, to the city’s thick history of organized crime. That person’s clothing was intact, leading officials to estimate their death taking place in the late 1970s or early 1980s.
This was only the beginning. Erndt’s skeleton surfaced the next week, followed by human remains discovered on July 25, Aug. 6, and Aug. 16.
As the critical drought continues, the federal government is asking locals to cut water use. Officials are also cutting access from the Colorado River Basin to Arizona and Nevada for the second year in a row.
Currently, water levels at Lake Mead stand at 27% of capacity, down 175 feet since 2000. This is the lowest level since the construction of the Hoover Dam and filling of Lake Mead in the late 1930s.