When Lake Mead’s water levels receded, a half-century-old study came to light

LAS VEGAS (CLASS) – When Lake Mead’s water levels receded and nearly 50-year-old human remains surfaced, a half-century-old investigation came back into the spotlight.

Donald Smith, 39, of north Las Vegas, disappeared in April 1974 while boating on Lake Mead near Calville Bay.

Documents Received from Nextar 8newsnow.com show that Smith left his home around 1 p.m. on the day of his disappearance. His wife said Smith had been drinking but was not drunk. She said he took his pistol and loaded a shotgun in the cabin of his boat.

Documents obtained by 8 News Now investigators bring to light a centuries-old case. | Photo: KLAS

About two hours later, two of Smith’s longtime friends, floating 150 feet from his boat, said they saw him fall back into the lake with his hands raised. About a minute later, they said they arrived at the spot where Smith fell in the water and found a deck shoe floating on the surface.

After going in search of him, they said Smith was nowhere to be found.

They also could not find Smith’s guns on the boat or in his vehicle.

Investigators questioned Smith’s friends but concluded that since rangers were at the scene, no one would have been able to hide the guns. Instead, investigators said it was likely the guns were stolen from Smith’s vehicle, which had been left unlocked. Such thefts were common in the area at the time.

After a two-day search, investigators determined that the water was too deep to search the lake thoroughly. The National Park Service did not have sufficient resources and accurate information about where Smith drowned was unavailable.

They concluded that Smith either slipped or was thrown off balance by a wave. The coldness of the water and Smith’s shortness of breath caused him to go underwater without leaving blisters or other marks, investigators said.

Almost 50 years later, the water level in Lake Mead was much lower. In October 2022 a diver found a human bone in the mud near the gas station in Calville Bay, the same area where Smith disappeared. Over the next few days, National Park Service divers found a pair of Smith’s jeans, other remains, and a wallet and credit cards.

In late 2022, the maximum depth of this area when Smith’s remains were found was documented as 47 feet. In 1974, the same area was up to 160 feet deep.

The team at 3rd Reef Divers thinks there’s more to discover beneath the waters of Lake Mead | Photo: KLAS

Four sets of human remains were found

Larry Millwood is the owner of 3rd Reef Divers based in Henderson, Nevada which offers scuba diving education. He believes there may be more human remains in Lake Mead that need to be excavated. Although Millwood insists he is not actively seeking such intelligence, he and his crew are prepared should such a situation arise.

“If we happen to come across anything,” Millwood said. “We will mark it and then inform the authorities.”

Larry Millwood is ready should he or his team make a grisly discovery beneath Lake Mead’s surface. | Photo: KLAS

Millwood and fellow divers Mitchell Claffey say they personally found no remains. However, they made some discoveries, including weapons.

The weapons the divers found were not believed to be connected to Smith’s disappearance. The whereabouts of his weapons remain a mystery to this day.

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