Monday, September 04, 2006
Witnesses tell of freak death of Steve Irwin
A DOCTOR and witnesses have told of the desperate efforts to save Australian icon Steve Irwin after the Crocodile Hunter was struck in the chest by a stingray barb today.
Irwin, 44, died this morning after being fatally injured while filming a nature documentary off Queensland.
The news has shocked the nation and prompted a rush of tributes from politicians and the public alike.
Irwin's wife Terri was in Tasmania at the time of the tragedy and had to be contacted by police with the terrible news.
The couple's daughter Bindi, 8, was with her father in north Queensland, Irwin's manager John Stainton said from Cairns.
Choking back tears, Mr Stainton said Irwin had gone “over the top of a stingray and a stingray's barb went up and went into his chest and put a hole into his heart”.
"He possibly died instantly when the barb hit him, and I don't think that he ... felt any pain.”
Professional diver Pete West was on board a nearby boat and was asked by Irwin's team to call in the emergency.
Asked on Channel 7 if Irwin was alive when they got him on his own boat, Mr West said: “I believe so.”
"He was doing what he did best and unfortunately today he wasn't quick enough."
Dr Ed O'Loughlin was aboard the Emergency Management Queensland Helicopter which was called from Cairns at 11.21am (AEST).
Irwin was being given CPR at Low Isles, off Port Douglas, as the helicopter arrived less than one hour after the incident, but Dr O'Loughlin said nothing could be done to save him.
"It became clear fairly soon that he had non-survivable injuries," Dr O'Loughlin said.
"He had a penetrating injury to the left front of his chest. He had lost his pulse and wasn't breathing."
Mr Stainton admitted he had always feared Irwin might meet his death while working with wildlife, but added that Irwin himself was never scared.
"We've been in some pretty close shaves. (But) nothing would ever scare Steve or would worry him. He didn't have a fear of death at all.”
Father-of-two Irwin was swimming at Batt Reef, off the Low Isles, when the tragedy occurred.
Tasmania Police this afternoon confirmed his wife Terri was travelling in the state at the time of the tragedy.
A spokeswoman said police had made contact with Mrs Irwin and "passed on a message relating to the death of her husband".
The Irwins have two children - Bindi and a three-year-old son, Robert (Bob) Clarence Irwin.
John Weigel, of the Australian Reptile Park on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, said Irwin's death would be "devastating to a lot of people".
"He walked into the room like someone had opened the window and let the light in.
"He seemed invincible and it's a great shock that it could happen."
Steve Irwin - known worldwide as the Crocodile Hunter - was famous for his enthusiasm for wildlife and his catchcry "Crikey!".
In an sad twist, it has been reported that his new documentary was aimed at demystifying the stingray. However Mr Stainton said Irwin was filming other footage for a program with Bindi at the time of the attack.
Irwin's Crocodile Hunter program was first broadcast in 1992 and has been shown around the world on cable network Discovery.
He has also starred in movies and has developed the Australia Zoo wildlife park, north of Brisbane, which was started by his parents Bob and Lyn Irwin.
Tributes quickly poured in for the larger-than-life character.
Prime Minister John Howard said Irwin was a typical Australian larrikin who brought joy to millions of people around the world.
"I am quite shocked and distressed at Steve Irwin's sudden, untimely and freakish death," he said.
"It's a huge loss to Australia."
A Tourism Queensland spokeswoman said the death was shocking and paid tribute to Irwin's "enormous contribution" to his adopted state.
"I don't think we could even estimate how much he brought us through his personality and his profile and his enthusiasm about Queensland," she said.
- with AAP