It’s been more than seven years since Steve Irwin “The Crocodile Hunter” met his death in a cruel twist of tragedy and irony—and for the first time, his long-time cameraman Justin Lyons has opened up about what it was like to be there on that dreadful day.
On Sept. 4, 2006, the 44-year-old was working on a documentary titled “Ocean’s Deadliest” on the Great Barrier Reef when they spotted a “massive” bull ray in the water.
After several minutes of shooting, the crew decided they needed “one last shot”—what they didn’t realize was that it wasn’t just the last shot of the huge stingray, but also the last shot of Steve’s life and career.
“I had the camera and thought this was going to be a great show,” Justin explained on the Australian morning show, Studio 10.
“And all of sudden [the stingray] propped on its front and started stabbing with its tail. Hundreds of strikes in a few seconds.”
The 8-foot-long stingray had a sharp barb at the end of its tail, which instantly pierced Steve’s organs.
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“It went through his chest like a hot knife through butter,” Justin remembered. “He thought it had punctured his lung, and he stood up out of the water and said, ‘It’s punctured my lung.’”
Justin tried to urge his friend long-time collaborator to fight, telling him “Think of your kids, Steve. Hang on, hang on, hang on.”
But the beloved television personality—whose daughter Bindi and son Robert were only eight and three, respectively, at the time—was in “extraordinary pain” because the stingray’s barb also contained venom.
“He had an extraordinary threshold for pain, so I knew that when he said he was in pain, it must’ve been bad."
Through the trauma, Steve remained painstakingly aware of what was happening to him.
“He just sort of calmly looked up at me and said, ‘I’m dying’” Justin explained. “And that was the last thing he said.”
Death by stingrays are extremely rare and it’s believed that Steve’s is the only time its been caught on film—although it won’t ever be seen. After the police watched it, it was destroyed at the request of the Irwin family.
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Steve’s legacy has lived on, thanks to his wife, Terri and his children, who have remained active not only in television but also with the Australia Zoo, to ensure that generations to come remain optimistic and excited about wildlife.
This week, his daughter—now 15—went on Good Morning America to talk about her partnership with SeaWorld, which she hopes gets kids excited about nature.
“I’m so excited to be carrying on in my dad’s footsteps and making sure that everything he worked so hard for continues for the generations to come,” she said on Good Morning America last week.