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Details of 'Crocodile Hunter' Steve Irwin's Death Revealed by Cameraman [VIDEO]

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Mar 10, 2014 04:57 PM EDT
“Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin
Justin Lyons, the cameraman who witnessed the death of “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin, has spoken out about the tragic incident for the first time. (Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

Justin Lyons, the cameraman who witnessed the death of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, has spoken out about the tragic incident for the first time.

Irwin was killed in September 2006 after a surprise attack by a stingray. Lyons, who Irwin called his "right hand man," was the only person in the water with Irwin when he was attacked. The pair had worked together for 15 years.

In his account of the fatal day, Lyons spoke to the Australian talk show Studio 10 Sunday, saying that the stingray struck Irwin "hundreds of times."

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Irwin was with a film crew working along Australia's Great Barrier Reef on a project about deadly underwater creatures. They had been looking for tiger sharks, but were unsuccessful, and Irwin, growing restless, wanted to get something on film. He and Lyons left their ship in an inflatable boat and went off to look for something to film.

After a while they spotted the stingray in chest-deep water and decided it would be good to film for another project.

"This one was extraordinarily large," Lyons said. "It was 8-foot wide. Massive."

Male stingray. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Male stingray. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The pair had filmed stingrays together before, and the creatures are not known to be aggressive or very dangerous. After briefly hashing out their plans above water, they submerged and started filming.

After filming for a while, they had all the footage they needed except for a closing shot showing the stingray swimming away from Irwin.

They set the final shot up and started filming when the ray.

"All of a sudden, it propped on its front and started stabbing wildly with its tail," Lyons said, making a swift uppercutting motion with his arm. "Hundreds of strikes in a few seconds."

Lyons said the stingray's reaction was a natural survival mechanism that has allowed the creature to survive for millions of years.

"It probably thought that Steve's shadow was a tiger shark, which feeds on them very regularly. And so it started to attack him."

Lyons said that he panned with camera as the stingray swam away, not realizing that Irwin had been struck.

"It wasn't until I panned the camera back that Steve was standing in a huge pool of blood that I realized that something had gone wrong," Lyons said.

Irwin was struck with the foot-long barb extending out of the middle part of the stingray's tail. Lyons said it was not embedded in Irwin's chest after the attack, as had been suggested in reports at the time of his death.

"It's a jagged, sharp barb," he said. "And it went through his chest like a hot knife through butter."

Lyons said that Irwin, who had "extraordinary threshold for pain," was in a great deal of pain from the attack. A stingray's barbs are coated in a venom, making the injury worse. Irwin thought that he thought the barb had punctured his lung, but he did not realize that the barb had punctured his heart as well.

"I don't think I realized how serious it was," Lyons said. "I didn't know that it had pierced his heart, I thought may it's just pierced his lung and we've got a good chance of saving him."

Once the inflatable boat returned to Croc 1, the crew's main vessel, Lyons said he preformed CPR on Irwin for more than an hour while they headed toward the shore for help.

"He just sort of calmly looked up at me and said, 'I'm dying.' And that was the last thing he said," Lyons said.

By the time medics and a helicopter arrived, Irwin was pronounced dead "within 10 seconds of looking at him," Lyons said.

Lyons said that he's not sure of the footage of Irwin's death still exists, but it it did he said it should never be released.

"Never," he told the show's hosts. "Out of respect for his family, I would say never."

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