'It should have been me': Cause of dam tragedy revealed
Concussed and in shock, Mel Martin stands in the murky waters of Wyaralong Dam, tenderly holding the hand of her little girl, who is trapped next to her brother in a mangled car wreck filled with water.
Helpless, Ms Martin holds her daughter's hand and talks to her, until she is forcibly dragged away for medical treatment of her own.
The broken mother-of-four, has spoken for the first time about the horror crash on November 22 last year, telling The Sunday Mail they were told a mechanical fault caused the terrible tragedy that killed her 13-year-old son and four-year-old daughter. .
Ms Martin, her now husband Dylan Wadley and their four children were driving home to the Southern Downs after a weekend on the Gold Coast when their car smashed through a guard rail and plunged into the Scenic Rim's Wyaralong Dam.
Upside down and half submerged, brave strangers and emergency services scrambled to save the young children from the destroyed car.
Ms Martin told the Sunday Mail when she was forced to let go of her daughter's hand she knew little Mia and Leo had spent too much time trapped underwater and weren't going to make it.
"I had to let go of her hand, knowing we hadn't got her out of the car," she said.
"I was over at the car and talking to her while I stood in the water waiting for help. I'd grabbed her hand, and then someone just dragged me away for treatment.
"I had to let go of her hand, and that bit does me in, it's probably the hardest part for me."
Leo Larsen, 13, Mia, four, Ace, then one and little five-week-old Hope had all been asleep in the back seats when the family's Land Rover Discovery 4WD veered off the road.
Ms Martin said she was also asleep in the passenger seat and woke up in a state of semi conscious confusion when the car flipped and water began to seep in.
But Mr Wadley, she said, sprung into immediate action, dragging Ms Martin from the car by her hair and working to free the children from the back seats.
The two younger children could be reached and were carried to safety, but the older kids could not be freed in time.
Ms Martin said her loyal Leo and Mia, the little life of the party, were extremely close.
When it came time to lay them to rest she knew she had to bury them together.
Ms Martin's concussion was so bad, she was forced to learn the heartbreaking fate of her two eldest children all over again while recovering in hospital.
"I asked the nurse where my children were, and she told me she didn't know much," Ms Martin said.
" … Eventually, she said she would go get a social worker. I just knew in my heart, even though I couldn't remember then, that both Leo and Mia had died. I just felt it in my heart."
Of the crash itself, which is still under investigation, Ms Martin doesn't remember much, but can remember Mr Wadley's heroic attempts at trying to save the kids. Though he doesn't think he's a hero.
"You just step into action," Mr Wadley said of the repeated attempts to free trapped Mia and search for Leo.
"When I actually took a breath and went in there, I was sort of getting stuck from every angle and it was so hard to be able to squeeze myself in there."
Mr Wadley holds a lot of guilt following the crash, Ms Martin said.
"He said to me 'it should have been me, I should be dead.' I pulled him up right there and said 'don't you dare. If it wasn't for you, none of us would have survived … I was very proud of his efforts to save us all, no matter what happened beforehand."
Miraculously, baby Hope survived the crash completely unscathed, while little Ace still visits the doctor about three times a week after he was placed in an induced coma for seven days after the crash.
Ms Martin said Leo and Mia, whose name was chosen by her elder brother after an ultrasound appointment before her birth, grew up as two peas in a pod.
Leo was the first person to hold baby Mia, and even as an early teen he would go out of his way to include his younger sister.
Ms Martin said it brings her some comfort knowing they'll be together forever.
"We buried them in a coffin together because I just couldn't bear to have them apart," Ms Martin said.
"Mia is placed in Leo's arms and her head is resting, asleep on his shoulder. I couldn't get around burying them on their own, I couldn't get my head around that decision. And there was a comfort in them being together. Leo was scared of the dark, and the whole idea of them being in the dark alone, I just couldn't find comfort in that."
Ms Martin said it's hard being a parent to two youngsters while trying to grieve, but said it's also Ace, now 18 months, and Hope, six months, that keep her going.
"Without them I think I'd be dead too, because I don't think I'd have gotten through this," she said.
Ms Martin has nightmares, often from the perspective of her children trapped in the back seat.
But she said when she needs her two eldest kids the most, they find a way to let her know they're still around.
It was during the first outing after coming home from hospital that she looked up at the sky while reflecting on her children and noticed a double rainbow.
She said it was the only one she'd ever seen before.
Again, it was when the family went to the beach - a brave feat for Ms Martin who struggled to go near the water after the tragedy- a lone rock in the shape of a heart washed up at her feet.
She kept the rock.
Ms Martin used to sing Tim McGraw's 'Don't Take the Girl' to Mia each night before bed. Now that song carries a whole new meaning, she said.
Ms Martin also sung it to her daughter during the week she was able to sit by the bedsides of Leo and Mia in the funeral home before laying them to rest in December.
Each day for that one week Ms Martin would talk to, sing to or just be with her kids.
She said the staff at the funeral home would stroke the kids on the head upon her arrival and say "mummy's here to see you now."
Ms Martin and Mr Wadley tied the knot last week in an intimate ceremony paid for and organised by Elope to the Coast.
The couple had been planning to wed in February, but Ms Martin said it didn't feel right to celebrate then.
"Even now it feels too soon," said Ms Martin.
"But nothing will ever feel right again. Not having them at our wedding is never going to be right. Not having them here will never feel right, but I take comfort knowing they're together."
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Originally published as 'I had to let go': Heartbreaking moment mum knew her kids were gone