- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2006

SYDNEY, Australia — Steve Irwin, the quirky Australian naturalist who won worldwide acclaim as TV’s khaki-clad “Crocodile Hunter,” was killed by a stingray’s barb through the heart while filming a new documentary yesterday.

Mr. Irwin, 44, tangled with some of the world’s most dangerous animals, but he died in an extremely rare attack by a normally placid sea creature while diving on a reef off Port Douglas in northern Queensland.

“He came over the top of a stingray, and the stingray’s barb went up and went into his chest and put a hole into his heart,” Mr. Irwin’s shocked manager, John Stainton, told reporters in Cairns, south of Port Douglas.

A helicopter rushed paramedics to nearby Low Isles, where Mr. Irwin was taken for treatment, but he was dead before they arrived, emergency officials said.

“It became clear fairly soon that he had nonsurvivable injuries,” Dr. Ed O’Loughlin, who treated Mr. Irwin, told Nine Network television.

“He had a penetrating injury to the left front of his chest. He had lost his pulse and wasn’t breathing,” he said.

Mr. Irwin’s death was likely only the third recorded fatal stingray attack in Australia, analysts said. They said stingray venom was agonizingly painful, but not lethal, although the barb was capable of causing horrific injuries such as a knife or bayonet.

“It’s not the going in, it’s the coming out,” said Dr. Bryan Fry, Australian Venom Research Unit deputy director.

“They have these deep serrations, which tear and render the flesh as it comes out,” he said.

Known around the world for his catchphrase “Crikey” during close encounters with wild animals, Mr. Irwin made almost 50 documentaries that appeared on the cable-TV channel Animal Planet. He became a virtual global industry, generating books, interactive games and toy action figures.

Mr. Irwin was described as “a modern-day Noah” and his death shocked world leaders, fellow naturalists and humble Australians who said he was “a bloody good bloke.”

“I really do feel Australia has lost a wonderful and colorful son. He brought immense joy to millions of people, particularly to children, and it’s just such a terrible loss,” Australian Prime Minister John Howard told reporters.

British naturalist and broadcaster David Bellamy described Mr. Irwin as a great performer and an excellent natural historian.

“He did take enormous risks, but he knew what he was doing. It was one of the terrible, terrible, terrible accidents, and I wish to God it didn’t happen,” Mr. Bellamy told the BBC.

Born on Feb. 22, 1962, in the southern Australian city of Melbourne, Mr. Irwin moved to tropical Queensland, where his parents ran a small reptile and animal park.

He grew up near crocodiles, trapping and removing them from populated areas and releasing them in his parent’s park. He took over the park in 1991 and renamed it the Australia Zoo.

Mr. Irwin became famous for his seemingly death-defying skill with wild animals, including crocodiles and snakes.

He met his U.S.-born wife, Terri, at the zoo and the footage of their honeymoon — which they spent trapping crocodiles — formed the basis of his first “Crocodile Hunter” documentary.

Later shows had a worldwide audience of 200 million, or 10 times the population of Australia.

The couple had two children, Bindi Sue and Robert Clarence.

Mr. Irwin triggered outrage in 2004 by holding his then one-month-old son while feeding a snapping crocodile at his zoo.

He was also criticized for reportedly disturbing whales, seals and penguins while filming in Antarctica.

Mr. Irwin boasted that he had never been bitten by a venomous snake or seriously bitten by a crocodile, although admitting his worst injuries had been inflicted by parrots.

“I don’t know what it is with parrots, but they always bite me,” Mr. Irwin once said. “A cockatoo once tried to rip the end of my nose off. I don’t know what they’ve got against me.”

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