Crocodile Hunter killed by stingray

'Crocodile hunter' killed by stingray

Roger Maynard in Sydney
Monday September 4, 2006
The Guardian
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Flowers left by fans in memory of Steve Irwin outside the zoo he ran with his family in Queensland. Photograph: Steve Holland/AP

Steve Irwin, the passionate conservationist who shot to international fame as the Crocodile Hunter, was killed today in a freak accident while diving off the north Queensland coast.In a bitter irony, the man who risked his life handling one of the world's most dangerous reptiles was mortally wounded by a stingray, a usually passive sea creature which attacks only if threatened. Irwin, 44, was stung in the chest by the stingray's barbed tail, which whips up in a reflex action. The accident happened while he was filming a TV documentary called Oceans' Deadliest at Batt Reef, near Port Douglas.

A member of the production team said he had gone out to film a sequence on stingrays when he swam over the venomous bottom-dweller, which has large pectoral fins like wings and can grow up to 4 metres long.His producer, John Stainton, said: "He came over the top of the stingray and the barb went up into his chest and put a hole in his heart." Barely conscious, he was hauled back on to his research vessel, Croc One, and taken to the nearby Low Isles.
Irwin, whose infectious enthusiasm and catchphrase "crikey" made him popular with television audiences around the world, was treated by paramedics who were flown to his boat by helicopter, but they were unable to revive him.
Dr Ed Loughlin, who arrived less than an hour after the incident, said nothing could be done to save him. "It became clear fairly soon that he had non-survivable injuries. He had a penetrating injury to the left front of his chest. He had lost his pulse and wasn't breathing."
The death of Irwin, who leaves a wife and two children, has shocked Australians, many of them jamming radio station phone lines to air their grief. Fans laid flowers in his memory outside the zoo he ran with his family north of Brisbane on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.
The prime minister, John Howard, described him as an Australian larrikin - a wild-spirited person - who brought joy to millions. "It's a huge loss to Australia," he said. "I am quite shocked and distressed at Steve Irwin's sudden, untimely and freakish death."
Chris Brown, the chief executive of a tourism lobbying group, said: "As an ambassador for Australia there are few who came anywhere near this wonderful, delightfully semi-mad sort of bloke."
It is only the third recorded fatal stingray attack in Australia. Normally the fish, which can weigh up to two tonnes, swims away from divers, but if provoked will automatically strike with its barbed tail. Usually victims are stung on the arm or leg, leaving a wound that while painful, can usually be treated.
Dr Meredith Peach, a marine biologist, said it was unusual for stingrays to attack a diver, unless they handled or accidentally stepped on the fish.
Irwin's father, Bob, was a plumber by trade but spent his free time rescuing and rehabilitating animals. Steve shared his father's passion for wildlife and the family founded Australia Zoo in Queensland. Bob Irwin taught his son how to "second-guess" crocodiles in their natural habitat and Steve quickly put his experience to use by relocating rogue crocodiles under a project run by the Queensland government.
Shortly after he married his wife, Terri, in 1992, he turned his crocodile hunting exploits into a television series that made him a household name in her native United States. He even appeared as a cartoon character in The Simpsons.
When George Bush made an official visit to Canberra, Irwin arrived at the reception in his customary khaki shorts and shirt. "I got my absolute best khakis out and was having a yarn to Johnny Howard and George Bush and no one mentioned it [my clothes]," he said in a TV interview afterwards.
His only fall from favour came in 2004 when he was shown on television carrying his infant son Robert in one arm while feeding a chicken carcass to a crocodile with the other. Child welfare groups accused him of endangering the child's life, but he insisted the boy was never in danger because he had control of the situation.
Irwin acknowledged that some fellow Australians cringed when they saw him. "They actually see a little bit of themselves when they see me and they find that a little embarrassing," he said.
"I'm fair dinkum, like kangaroos, winged keels and bloody flies," he added. "I think I've got animals so genetically inside me that there's no way I could actually be anything else."


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