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Human remains found in Lake Mead identified as 39-year-old man who drowned in 1974

The remains found in October were those of Donald P. Smith of North Las Vegas, said the coroner's office. Investigators ruled the death an accident.
Image: A formerly sunken boat sits high and dry along the shoreline of Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, on May 10, 2022, near Boulder City, Nev.
A formerly sunken boat sits high and dry along the shoreline of Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Boulder City, Nev., on May 10.John Locher / AP file

Human remains found at Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada last year are those of a 39-year-old Las Vegas man who drowned nearly 50 years ago, authorities announced Tuesday.

DNA analysis and reports of the April 1974 drowning were used to identify the skeletal remains as those of Donald P. Smith of North Las Vegas, the Clark County coroner’s office said in a news release. Investigators ruled the death an accident.

Smith's skeletal remains were discovered on Oct. 17, when a diver found what appeared to be a human bone in the Callville Bay area, roughly 30 miles east of Las Vegas. Divers found another bone on Oct. 19, which was determined to belong to the same person, according to the coroner's office and Stacey Welling, senior public information officer for Clark County.

A National Park Service dive team carried out a full search the next day and confirmed a finding of skeletal remains, a spokesperson has said.

Officials have identified and notified Smith's living relatives that his remains have been identified, Welling said.

The October discoveries marked the sixth and seventh times last year that remains had been found at the country's largest reservoir amid a worsening drought and record-low water levels.

The findings have raised questions about the circumstances of the deaths and why so many sets of remains turned up in Lake Mead, a reservoir formed by Hoover Dam.

Authorities last year identified remains discovered on May 7, also in Callville Bay, as those of Thomas Erndt, 42, of Las Vegas, who was reported to have drowned in August 2002, the coroner's office said. The cause and manner of his death remain undetermined.

Other sets of remains found last year have yet to be identified.

Remains of the same person, whom the coroner's office is working to identify, were found on Boulder Beach on July 25, Aug. 6 and Aug. 15.

Another set of remains, found in a barrel May 1 in Hemenway Harbor, about 30 miles south of Callville Bay, were those of an unidentified man who died from a gunshot wound, the coroner's office said.

Las Vegas police said two days after the discovery that detectives believed he was killed in the mid 1970s or early ’80s based on his clothing and footwear and that they were working to identify him.

On Aug. 18, Las Vegas police said that a journalist found a gun near where the remains in the barrel had been discovered but that it was not clear whether it was related to the remains.

Some local experts have said the killing could have been a mob execution.

Lake Mead is one of the busiest national parks in the country, drawing about 8 million visitors a year, according to the National Park Service, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.