“I can’t stop replaying it,” Joey Haire, 14, wrote on her Facebook page on Thursday.
“We are all still in shock and pain,” wrote her sister, Jaclyn Haire, 13. “We try to sleep, but when we (do), we all have flashbacks to the accident. So none of us will be sleeping soon.”
“The girls keep talking about it, and every time they talk about it, they cry and say, ‘We thought we were dying,’” said their mother, Cherie Haire.
The Haire girls, both of Powell, and two other teens, Kylie Olinger, 15, and Melani Madden, 13, both of California, were enjoying a peaceful float down the Shoshone River on tubes Wednesday afternoon when they realized they hadn’t seen the little waterfall that normally alerts them that the Mormon Dam is coming up. At that point, they planned to pull out of the water.
But the water is so high this year that they didn’t see the little waterfall.
“We thought it was the waterfall until we got to it,” Jaclyn said during a telephone interview with the Tribune.
“When we turned the corner, we heard something and thought it was the waterfall,” Joey said. “We saw a cement kind of thingy, and I told the girls it was the dam.”
The Mormon Dam is in a remote location on the lower Willwood south of Lane 11, between Roads 6 and 7 about 5 miles from Powell.
“We thought it was this little mini waterfall, a baby dip in the river, then we realized we couldn’t see the other side of the water (past the dam),” said Kylie, the Haire girls’ cousin. “It was going straight down. Me and Joey looked at each other and started screaming.”
“I remember screaming for help,” said Melani, who, though not related, is considered a cousin of the Haires. “I didn’t think we were going to survive that.”
Joey said, “They (the other girls) were trying to swim against the current. I told them, ‘That’s not going to help; the current’s going to win.’ I tried to jump off (the tube), to see if I could touch the ground, but I couldn’t. Then I tried to jump on the tube and got flung off” and went over the dam.
Questions about Mormon Dam were referred to Fred Hopkin, who farms southeast of Powell.
In an email, Hopkin described the dam:
“It is the diversion point for the Elk-Lovell Canal,” he said. “It is located in Park County at about Road 6. I would estimate that it is at least 12 feet in height, and at this time of year it may be running about 4,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) of water. That is a lot of water.”
Hopkin said the Mormon Dam is about 100 feet longer and 3 feet higher than the Penrose Dam, but less visible than the Penrose Dam because it isn’t close to a road.
Hopkin said Mormon Dam is unusual because it has concrete pillars on the apron.
“The water goes over the dam and lands on a concrete platform below called an ‘apron.’ The apron is probably 15 to 20 feet in length,” he said.
“This is so the water coming off the dam doesn’t swirl and erode the area underneath the dam, where it is moving with a lot of force. On the apron, every few feet, there are concrete pillars, about 2 feet in height, and perhaps a foot in width,” Hopkin said. “These are designed to slow the momentum of the water as it rushes off the dam and onto the apron, so that it loses some of its force as it comes off the apron.
“Coming over the 12-foot dam would be extremely treacherous, but going across the pillars on the aprons would be another very serious hazard,” Hopkin said.
Wearing life jackets
All four girls were wearing life jackets that pulled them back to the surface after they went over the dam.
Joey said she doesn’t remember being under water.
“I remember seeing a bright light, then coming out of the water. I looked to see if we had everyone. I saw Jaclyn and Melani, but I couldn’t see Kylie. We were just screaming for her.”
“Me, Joey and Melanie got up and noticed that Kylie wasn’t anywhere that we could see,” said Jaclyn. “Then we saw Kylie floating and told her to go to shore.”
Kylie was most seriously injured.
“When I went down, my leg got caught in rocks. The only way to get it out was rip my flesh off. I didn’t know I had done it until later.
“I yelled, ‘Help, help!’ then I looked down at my leg and started screaming; my flesh was all over.”
Kylie’s calf had nearly been severed from her leg. Cherie Haire said Kylie was fortunate that the water was cold enough that it slowed Kylie’s blood loss and minimized her pain at the time.
All four girls used their upper body strength to pull themselves up onto the bank, which is very steep there.
Meanwhile, Melani’s dad, Dan Madden, and her younger brother, Travis, and three other family members were floating some distance behind the girls. The float trip was the last activity during a family reunion; Melani and her family and Kylie were planning to travel home the next day.
Dan said he and Travis were the closest to the girls and saw them go over the dam. They pulled out of the water immediately, and Travis “was trucking right through that brush. He passed me up to get to his sister.”
Travis went to the nearest house to get help, Dan said. He is pictured in Thursday’s Powell Tribune with firefighter Mick Hobbs comforting him after the girls were loaded into ambulances.
Cherie said Melani has the most cuts and scrapes, and her injuries are more visible than the other girls’, though they’re less severe.
“She felt herself scraping across it,” Cherie said. “She has a really big (scrape) across her back. She’s very sore.”
The other girls’ injuries, though less obvious, are more serious, she said. Remarkably, though, none broke any bones, she said.
“Joey busted up her knee really good, really deep ... a zigzag split,” Cherie said. “It was thick and it was open.”
Despite that, Joey’s knee joint was intact, with no injuries to the bones or tendons.
“He said it looked really good,” Cherie said. “The doctor was amazed.”
At the scene on Wednesday, emergency medical technicians initially thought Jaclyn’s femur, the bone in her thigh, could have been broken. A CT scan showed the bone was intact; however, she has a large bruise on her thigh and a large hematoma (a large collection of blood) between her muscle and her skin.
Cherie said Jaclyn’s oxygen was low, so she had to stay in the hospital until it went up.
Joey, Jaclyn and Melanie were released from Powell Hospital Wednesday evening.
Kylie was flown to a hospital in Billings, where she underwent surgery Wednesday night to reattach the calf, which had nearly been severed from her leg. She received a skin graft on Sunday. Kylie’s mother traveled from Redding, Calif., Thursday evening to be with her daughter.
Kylie still was hospitalized in Billings on Monday.
“They are thinking of releasing me Wednesday. I’m healing, but it’s taking time,” she said.
“If I wouldn’t have had my life jacket on, I would not have been able to get out of that waterfall. As soon as my leg was free, I floated to the surface. I don’t think I could have done it without a life jacket.”
“We’re very, very lucky they’re alive,” Cherie said.
Their memories and emotional trauma may take more time to heal than their physical injuries.
“Every once in a while, we’ll all turn emotional, and we’ll all start crying,” Jaclyn said. “Last night, none of us got much sleep because we all had nightmares and flashbacks about it.”
“Whenever I look at the picture of the dam, I get upset,” Melani said. “It’s hard to believe we all fell off of that. Like my cousin Chelsie said, God was watching over us. He knew it wasn’t our time to go.”
All four girls thanked the community for their support and for the prayers that were said on their behalf.
Dan Madden said he wanted to thank the Powell community for its collective concern and help after the accident, from the paramedics and firefighters to people who brought food or just stopped by to check on the girls.
“I wanted to really make sure that the word got out that you guys have such a great community here, not only comforting the kids, but us adults as well,” Madden said. “That’s one thing I’ll be talking about, is how great everybody was.”