«Crocodile Hunter» Irwin Dies
SYDNEY – Steve Irwin, the quirky Australian naturalist who won worldwide acclaim as TV’s khaki-clad “Crocodile Hunter,” was killed by a stingray barb through the heart while filming a new documentary on Monday.
Irwin, 44, tangled with some of the world’s most dangerous animals but he died in an extremely rare attack by a normally placid sea creature while he was diving on a reef off Port Douglas in northern Queensland.
“He came over the top of a stingray and the stingray’s barb went up and went into his chest and put a hole into his heart,” Irwin’s shocked manager John Stainton told reporters in Cairns, south of Port Douglas.
A helicopter rushed paramedics to nearby Low Isles where Irwin was taken for treatment, but he was dead before they arrived, emergency officials said.
“It became clear fairly soon that he had non-survivable injuries,” Dr. Ed O’Loughlin, who treated Irwin, told Nine Network television.
“He had a penetrating injury to the left front of his chest. He had lost his pulse and wasn’t breathing,” he said.
Irwin’s death was likely only the third recorded fatal stingray attack in Australia, experts said. They said stingray venom was agonizingly painful but not lethal, although the barb was capable of causing horrific injuries like a knife or bayonet.
“It’s not the going in, it’s the coming out,” Australian Venom Research Unit deputy director Dr Bryan Fry told Reuters.
“They have these deep serrations which tear and render the flesh as it comes out,” he said.
“CRIKEY”: Known around the world for his catchphrase “Crikey” during close encounters with wild animals, Irwin made almost 50 documentaries which appeared on the cable TV channel Animal Planet. He became a virtual global industry generating books, interactive games and even toy action figures.
Irwin was described as “a modern-day Noah” and his death shocked world leaders, fellow naturalists and humble Australians who said he was “a bloody good bloke.”
“I really do feel Australia has lost a wonderful and colorful son. He brought immense joy to millions of people, particularly to children, and it’s just such a terrible loss,” emotional Australian Prime Minister John Howard told reporters.
British naturalist and broadcaster David Bellamy described Irwin as a great performer and an excellent natural historian.
“He did take enormous risks, but he knew what he was doing. It was one of the terrible, terrible, terrible accidents and I wish to God it didn’t happen,” Bellamy told the BBC.
GREW UP WITH REPTILES
Born on February 22, 1962, in the southern Australian city of Melbourne, Irwin moved to tropical Queensland where his parents ran a small reptile and fauna park.
He grew up near crocodiles, trapping and removing them from populated areas and releasing them in his parent’s park. He took over the park in 1991 and renamed it the “Australia Zoo.”
Irwin became famous for his seemingly death-defying skill with wild animals, including crocodiles and snakes.
He met his U.S.-born wife Terri at the zoo and the footage of their honeymoon — which they spent trapping crocodiles — formed the basis of his first “Crocodile Hunter” documentary.
Later shows had a worldwide audience of 200 million, or 10 times the population of Australia.