Steve Irwin’s final words: Cameraman present at death opens up about deadly stingray attack for the first time
Published 10/03/2014 | 10:48
The cameraman who shot Steve Irwin’s fatal last scene with a stingray, during which he was poisoned after being stabbed by the animal's foot-long barb "thousands of times" has opened up about the nature conservationist’s final moments.
Justin Lyons was the sole person to witness the father-of-two’s tragic accident in full as he shot underwater scenes for a new nature documentary called Ocean’s Deadliest on the Great Barrier Reef in 2006.
Irwin and his crew were eight days into the shoot at the time, which saw them charter a small inflatable boat through chest-deep water when they came across a “massive, eight-foot-wide stingray”.
The cameraman spoke publicly about his death for the first time when he appeared on an episode of Network Ten’s Studio 10 programme yesterday morning.
“Stingrays are normally very calm — if they don’t want you to be near them, they’ll swim away,” Lyons told hosts Jessica Rowe and Ita Buttrose.
“We stood up and said, ‘One last shot. You swim up from behind the animal and I’ll try to get a shot of it swimming away’.
“All of a sudden it propped on its front and started stabbing wildly with its tail. Hundreds of strikes in a few seconds.”
Lyons told the presenter that the stringray had probably mistaken Irwin’s shadow for a tiger shark, which is the animal’s biggest natural predators.
“I panned with the camera as the stingray swam away — I didn’t even know it had caused any damage. It wasn’t until I panned the camera back and Steve was standing in a huge pool of blood that I realised something was wrong.”
Contrary to media reports, he said, Irwin never tried to remove the razor-sharp barb from his chest.
“The stingray barb was a blade of about a foot extending out of the tail. Steve didn’t pull it out; it’s a jagged, sharp barb and it went through Steve’s chest like a hot knife through butter.”
Irwin apparently thought that the barb had punctured his lung when they dragged his body from the water and threw him back onto the inflatable boat.
“We assessed the situation for about five seconds. He had a two-inch injury over his heart with blood coming out of it.
“He was in extraordinary pain — they’ve got a venom on their barb, so I knew it must’ve been painful.”
As the team raced Irwin back to the shore, Lyons attempted to focus his attention on his children to keep him fighting for his life.
“He just sort of calmly looked up at me and said, ‘I’m dying’. And that was the last thing he said,” he continued.
“We hoped for a miracle. I did CPR on him for over an hour before the medics came, but then they pronounced him dead within 10 seconds of looking at him.”
A second cameraman continued to film throughout the incident, in keeping with a longstanding agreement with Irwin that they capture any attack or accident he might suffer through filming at any point in time.
Yet despite this, Lyons expressed his desire for the gruesome footage never to be released.
“Out of respect for his family, I would say never.”
Irwin was survived by his wife and co-presenter, Terri Raines Irwin, and his two children, Bindi and Robert Irwin.