- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2006

BEERWAH, Australia — Steve Irwin pulled a poisonous stingray barb from his chest in his dying moments, his longtime manager said yesterday after watching a videotape of the attack that killed the popular “Crocodile Hunter.”

Mr. Irwin’s body was returned home to Beerwah, a hamlet in southeastern Queensland on the fringe of the outback where he lived with his wife and two young children. Mr. Irwin turned a modest reptile park opened by his parents into the Australia Zoo, a wildlife reserve that has become an international tourist attraction.

Hundreds placed bouquets and handwritten notes at an ad hoc shrine to the popular 44-year-old naturalist outside the park, and other tributes flowed in from Canberra to Hollywood.

The dramatic details of Mr. Irwin’s death Monday as he was shooting a program on the Great Barrier Reef were disclosed by John Stainton, his manager and close friend. Mr. Stainton said he had viewed the videotape showing the TV star pulling the stingray barb from his chest.

“It shows that Steve came over the top of the ray and the tail came up, and spiked him here [in the chest], and he pulled it out, and the next minute he’s gone,” Mr. Stainton told reporters in Cairns, the nearest city to tiny Batt Reef off Australia’s far northeast coast where the accident occurred.

“It’s a very hard thing to watch, because you are actually witnessing somebody die, and it’s terrible,” he said.

The tape was not released to the public. Queensland state police took possession of a copy for a coroner’s investigation.

Mr. Stainton estimated Mr. Irwin’s distance from the stingray when the attack occurred at 3 feet.

State police Superintendent Michael Keating said Mr. Irwin was “interacting” with the stingray when it flicked its tail and speared his chest with its bone-hard serrated spine — the normally placid animal’s main defense mechanism.

“There is no evidence Mr. Irwin was threatening or intimidating the stingray,” Mr. Keating said.

Mr. Irwin’s boundless energy and daredevil antics around deadly beasts made him a household name on the Discovery Channel’s “Crocodile Hunter” show, with a reported audience of more than 200 million.

Australia’s leaders interrupted Parliament’s normal business to eulogize Mr. Irwin.

“He was a genuine, one-off, remarkable Australian individual, and I am distressed at his death,” Prime Minister John Howard said.

Friend and Oscar-winner Russell Crowe said from New York: “He was and remains the ultimate wildlife warrior.”

The U.S. Embassy issued a statement that Mr. Irwin was an unofficial Australian ambassador to the United States.

“With his humor and irrepressible sense of adventure, he represented those things our citizens find most appealing about Australia and its wonderful way of life,” it said.

Hundreds of people journeyed yesterday to the Australia Zoo to remember Mr. Irwin.

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