Stingray Kills Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin

CAIRNS, Queensland, Australia, September 5, 2006 (ENS) - Steve Irwin, the Australian conservationist and television personality nicknamed the Crocodile Hunter, was killed Monday by a stingray barb during filming off the Great Barrier Reef. He was 44.

Irwin was filming for a series called "Ocean's Deadliest" off the coast of Queensland near Port Douglas when he swam too close to a stingray, said his friend and colleague John Stainton.

"He came on top of the stingray and the stingray's barb went up and into his chest and put a hole into his heart," Stainton, who was aboard Irwin's boat at the time, told news reporters.

Stingrays have a serrated barb, or spine, loaded with toxin on top of their tails. The barb, which can be up to 10 inches long, flexes if a ray is frightened.

Irwin pulled the deadly stingray barb from his own chest before blacking out and dying. He was pulled from the water by a cameraman and a crewman, put aboard an inflatable and taken to a nearby support boat.

Irwin

The Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin died Monday at the age of 44. (Photo by Richard Giles)
Crewmembers said Irwin was still conscious in the moments after the sting, but died as his production team transported him to his vessel, "Croc One," and to an island for emergency treatment.

A charter dive boat crew tried to revive him on the beach, but he was pronounced dead shortly afterwards by Queensland Rescue Service officers, who arrived by helicopter.

Film of the death has been handed over to Queensland police, who are preparing a report for the coroner.

"The world has lost a great wildlife icon, a passionate conservationist and one of the proudest dads on the planet," Stainton told reporters in Cairns. "He died doing what he loved best."

Irwin became world famous his television program "Crocodile Hunter." First broadcast in Australia in 1992, the program was picked up by the Discovery network where his trademark exclamation "Crikey!" was part of the show's appeal.

But it was Irwin's dedication to wild animal conservation that was the heart and soul of his work.

He used his high profile to promote the cause of conservation, becoming owner and manager of the world renowned Australia Zoo in southern Queensland, the wildlife park that his parents opened.

He also established the Steve Irwin Conservation Foundation and International Crocodile Rescue.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said he was "shocked and deeply saddened" to learn of Irwin's sudden death.

The Prime Minister called Irwin "a passionate environmentalist who used his television programs and his award-winning Australia Zoo to promote a serious conservation message. He made an extraordinary contribution to creating a widespread appreciation of the value and uniqueness of Australian wildlife."

Australian Environment Minister Senator Ian Campbell said, "While the world knew him as the 'Crocodile Hunter' and as a colorful, quintessential Australian character, Steve Irwin was driven by an enormous and deeply held commitment to the environment and specifically Australiaís unique wildlife."

"He was so successful because he believed passionately in his lifeís work - the protection and conservation of our planet and its creatures and the promotion of our nationís natural wonders," Campbell said.

Irwin's wife Terri rushed to Queensland from a holiday in Tasmania after being told of the tragedy. She is now at the couple's family home on the Sunshine Coast with their two children, Bindi, 8, and Robert 2.

An outpouring of grief from across Australia and around the world was triggered by news of Irwin's death. At Australia Zoo at Beerwah, flowers laid by mourners are massed at the entrance.

On an Irwin weblog on the MySpace.com website, the majority of posters yesterday respected his non-religious stance, sending condolences to his family and wishing that the conservationist "rest in peace."