September 5, 2006

Irwin pulled barb from chest before death

By Michael Perry

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Fatally injured by a stingray,
Australian "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin pulled its serrated
barb out of his chest before losing consciousness and dying,
the world-famous naturalist's manager said on Tuesday.

Video footage of the attack shows Irwin swimming above the
stingray on the Great Barrier Reef on Monday when it lashed out
and speared him in the heart with its barbed tail, manager John
Stainton told reporters.

"It shows that Steve came over the top of the ray and the
tail came up, and spiked him here (in the chest)," Stainton
said after watching the footage.

"He pulled it out and the next minute he's gone. The
cameraman had to shut down," he said.

"It's a very hard thing to watch because you're actually
witnessing somebody die ... it's terrible."

Irwin, 44, the quirky naturalist who won worldwide acclaim
as TV's khaki-clad "Crocodile Hunter," was filming a new
documentary off Australia's northeastern coast when he was

Marine experts say stingrays can deliver horrific,
agonizing injuries from the toxin-laden barbs, which can
measure up to 20 cm (8 in) in length and cause injuries like a
knife or bayonet.

"The strongly serrated barb is capable of tearing and
rendering flesh," said Dr Bryan Fry, deputy director of the
Australian Venom Research Unit.

"It's not the going in that causes the damage, it's the
coming out where those deep serrations kind of pull on the
flesh, and you end up with a very jagged tear which is quite a
pronounced injury," Fry said.

News of Irwin's death shocked Australians and Irwin's
millions of fans around the world. Prime Minister John Howard
interrupted parliament on Tuesday to pay tribute.

"He was a genuine, one-off, remarkable Australian
individual and I am distressed at his death," Howard told

"We mourn his loss, we're devastated by the tragic
circumstances in which he has been taken from us and we send
our love and prayers to his grieving family," he said.


Environmental documentary maker Ben Cropp said video of the
attack showed Irwin swimming alongside a bull stingray,
probably weighing around 100 kg (220 lb). His cameraman was
filming in front of the ray, which became frightened and lashed

Stingrays are usually placid and only attack in

Stainton said the cameraman only became aware of the attack
when he noticed Irwin bleeding.

Millions had seen Irwin flirt with death many times as he
stalked and played with crocodiles, sharks, snakes and spiders.
Stainton said he was struggling to come to terms with the fact
that a stingray had killed his friend.

"There's been a million occasions where both of us held our
breath and thought we were lucky to get out of that one,"
Stainton said. "But he just seemed to have a charmed life."

Police said they had examined the footage and would prepare
a report for the coroner appointed to determine the cause of

Film star Russell Crowe called Irwin the "ultimate wildlife
warrior," adding: "He was the Australian we all aspire to be.
He touched my heart. I believed in him. I'll miss him."

Known for his catchphrase "Crikey" during close encounters
with animals, Irwin made almost 50 documentaries which appeared
on the cable TV channel Animal Planet.

U.S.-based television company Discovery Communications,
which produces Animal Planet, said it would set up a
conservation fund in honor of Irwin, dubbed in one tribute a
"modern-day Noah," and planned a marathon showing of his

Discovery said the footage of Irwin's fatal dive might
never be broadcast.

Australian newspapers paid tribute to Irwin on Tuesday,
while fans including American tourists laid wreaths outside his
Australia Zoo in tropical Queensland state.

"We thought he was Superman, that he was indestructible,"
said an editorial in Sydney's The Daily Telegraph.

"We were wrong"

(Additional reporting by Paul Tait in SYDNEY)