Yesterday on Australian television, Justin Lyons, the cameraman for the late Aussie television host Steve Irwin, told the story of the stingray attack that killed the Animal Planet Star on September 4, 2006.
Lyons and Irwin were filming for a documentary called Ocean's Deadliest, which was hosted by Philippe Cousteau, Jr. and released in 2007. The two had been milking the venom from sea snakes and were looking for tiger sharks off the coast of Queensland, but had been shut down by weather on that Monday.
"Steve was like a caged tiger when he couldn't do something," Lyons told Studio 10. "So we jumped in the inflatable and off we went to look for something to do."
They quickly came upon a large stingray in chest-deep water. "This one was eight-foot wide—massive bull ray," said Lyons. "Stingrays are normally very calm; if they don't want you to be around them, they'll swim away."
After several minutes of shooting, Lyons and Irwin placed themselves on either side of the stingray so that Lyons could get a clear shot. The plan was for Irwin to swim up behind the ray and for the ray to swim out of the frame. Only that's not what happened.
"All of a sudden it propped on its front and started stabbing wildly with its tail—hundreds of strikes in a few seconds," said Lyons. "It probably thought that Steve's shadow was a tiger shark, which feeds on them very regularly."
It was only after Lyons panned his camera back toward Irwin that he noticed how much blood was in the water. Contrary to media reports at the time, Lyons said Irwin didn't pull the barb—which he estimates was a foot-long and bladelike.
"He stood up and screamed, 'It's punctured me lung," Lyons told Studio 10. "He was in extraordinary pain… He didn't know it had punctured his heart." Lyons and the zodiac crew helped Irwin back aboard and raced for the mothership, but it was too late to save their friend, who quickly bled out. "He just sort of looked up at me calmly and said, 'I'm dying.' And that was the last thing he said."