Steve Irwin killed by stingray
September 04, 2006 12:00am
(reprinted from The Herald Sun)
STEVE Irwin rose in a cloud of blood -- the cameras still rolling -- before his crew realised he had been fatally speared through the heart by the barb of a stingray.
The Australian television star, 44, yesterday died of cardiac arrest after being stabbed off Port Douglas about 11am. Irwin was being filmed for his eight-year-old daughter Bindi's new TV show as he snorkelled in shallow water when a normally placid bull ray lashed out. "It was a very unfortunate accident the way it happened -- he just swam over the top of the ray and the barb came up and hit him," said close friend and documentary maker John Stainton. "The stingray's barb went up and into his chest and put a hole into his heart. "The cameraman said at the time he didn't know that it even hit him until he saw blood in the water and then he knew there was a problem." He was pulled from the water alive, taken to a nearby boat and could clearly be seen in distress. Crew members on Irwin's boat Croc One administered CPR and called for helicopter rescue -- but he was dead before help arrived. "It became clear fairly soon that he had non-survivable injuries," said Dr Ed O'Loughlin, the first medic on the scene. His death -- only the third known stingray death in Australian waters -- sent shockwaves across the nation and around the world. Eternally clad in khaki, and renowned for his impassioned catchcry "Crikey!", Irwin's Crocodile Hunter documentaries are watched by 500 million people in 130 countries. Irwin was a businessman who employed scores of people at his Australia Zoo, a world-renowned conservationist and a daredevil who loved flirting with danger around deadly animals. Irwin's American-born wife, Terri, was told of her husband's death while on a walking tour in Tasmania, and last night returned to the Sunshine Coast with her two children, Bindi and Bob, 2 1/2. Mr Stainton said he and Irwin were in north Queensland to film a new documentary called Ocean's Deadliest for American TV. He said Irwin was "like a caged lion" when poor weather postponed filming on the reef so he decided to capture stingray footage at Batt Reef for Bindi's television show, which was due to be picked up by networks around the world. Choking back tears, Mr Stainton said he believed Bindi would take up her father's cause with her new series, which is scheduled to be launched worldwide early next year. "Bindi's new TV show is going to premiere next January throughout America and the world -- Steve was an integral part of that program," he said. "We will do him proud and continue that effort. "I'm sure Bindi will follow in her father's footsteps like the true wildlife warrior that she is." Melbourne-born Irwin's body was flown to a morgue in Cairns, where stunned family and friends were gathering last night. Batt Reef is inhabited by hundreds of tiger sharks and stingrays, which laze in a vast shallow area with a sandy bottom. Legendary underwater filmmaker Ben Cropp, who has filmed several documentaries with stingrays, said he believed the animal must have been spooked. "He was swimming along with a ray and there was a camera man in front doing the filming and he was probably getting a little bit too close to the ray," Mr Cropp said from his Port Douglas home. "The ray would have felt cornered and suddenly baulked and twisted around and flicked his tail up in defence. "Steve just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time." Mr Cropp said stingrays attacked only when they felt threatened. Irwin's death was a freak occurrence. "Steve could have done it 1000 times and it never happened," he said. "I'm sure he felt confident with what he was doing but I think he just got too close and when the thing spooks, it doesn't spook and run, it stops and stabs." Local charter boat operator Steve Edmondson said Irwin had been in the area for several days. "It's very sad. He's been interacting with dangerous creatures and it's obviously gone wrong," he said. Dr O'Loughlin said there had been nothing he could do when he arrived. Irwin had no pulse and was not breathing. Mr Stainton mourned the loss of his best friend. "The world has lost a great wildlife icon, a passionate conservationist and one of the proudest dads on the planet," he said. "He died doing what he loves best and left this world in a happy and peaceful state of mind." The marketing manager of Irwin's Australia Zoo, Peter Lang, said everyone at the zoo was hurting yesterday. "If you forget the fact we are in business, I had known him for a lot of years and he was a great friend," he said. Everyone at the zoo, on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, had turned their thoughts to Irwin's family. "With all due respect to Terri, we at the zoo are the extended family and we are all hurting," he said. Col McKenzie, the executive director of the Association of Marine Park Tour Operators, said he believed Irwin's death had been captured on film. "They were filming when it occurred and (the stingray) has obviously jabbed him," he said. Mr McKenzie, who has worked in the tourism industry in Queensland for 20 years, said it was only the second death he could remember from a stingray attack. The animals usually attacked only if they were stepped on or manhandled. "As long as you don't prevent one of these creatures going away from you, you have nothing to worry about," he said. "I would suggest Steve's probably manhandled it for the camera and as a result it's jabbed him." Surf life saving authorities said there had been fewer than 20 recorded stingray deaths worldwide. The first reported Australian death was a woman in 1938, followed by a soldier in 1945, an unconfirmed report in 1969 and a confirmed stingray death in 1988 when a 12-year-old boy was stung near Innisfail.