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Human remains found in Lake Mead identified as Las Vegas man missing for a quarter century

Drought reveals remains at Lake Mead
Drought reveals long-lost remains at Lake Mead 02:56

Human remains found last summer at drought-stricken Lake Mead have been identified as a Las Vegas man missing since July 1998, authorities said Wednesday.

Claude Russell Pensinger was 52 at the time, the Clark County coroner's office said, noting that his bones were found over the course of three days last July and August on newly exposed shoreline near the Boulder Beach swimming area. A cause of death was not determined, a coroner's statement said.

Pensinger was fishing with his brother, who was in a separate boat, when he failed to meet at a location on the lake later in the day, according to documents obtained by CBS affiliate KLAS-TV.

Pensinger's brother said Claude was a "good swimmer" and identified him as a Navy and Coast Guard veteran, the documents said.

His identification came after investigators last month identified remains found in another part of the Colorado River reservoir behind Hoover Dam as Donald P. Smith, a 39-year-old North Las Vegas resident. He was reported to have drowned in April 1974. His death was ruled an accident.

Lake Mead Falls To Just 27% Capacity
Russian thistle tumbleweed floats in Lake Mead on July 28, 2022 in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada.  / Getty Images

Authorities are still trying to identify a man who police say was shot in the head and stuffed into a barrel. He was found in May 2022 near a popular swimming and boating area. Detectives said his clothing dated from the mid-1970s to early 1980s. The death is being investigated as a homicide.

Remains found in May 2022 were identified a few months later as those of Thomas Erndt, a 42-year-old Las Vegas father whose family said he drowned in 2002 while boating in the Callville Bay area.

Clark County has noted that identifying human remains relies on examinations to estimate age and physical characteristics, as well as DNA collections, "the quality of which can be greatly affected by time and environmental conditions." The determinations are then cross-referenced with details about people reported missing over the years.

The pattern of findings came as water levels at the sprawling reservoir plummeted to alarming record-lows after decades of drought and over-consumption. Alongside viral satellite photos shared by NASA, which gave a stark side-by-side comparison of the reservoir's shrinking shorelines over the course of two decades, came a number of others that showed exposed  "bathtub rings," and ancient volcanic rock.

Emily Mae Czachor contributed to this report.

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