Steve Irwin died tragically at age 44 when a stingray barb struck him in the heart September 4, 2006. He was 44 years old and his daughter, Bindi Irwin, was only 8. If Steve Irwin were still alive today to see his daughter married, he would be 58 years old.
Some of the details released immediately after Steve Irwin’s death, and even in the year’s that followed, were incorrect. The only witness to Steve Irwin’s final moments was his cameraman, who spoke about the confusion and horror surrounding the stingray attack and corrected the record in a 2014 world exclusive interview with Australia’s Studio 10, which is detailed below. He said the barb was not lodged in Irwin’s heart, and explained how that would be nearly impossible.
Bindi Irwin and her new husband, Chandler Powell, lit a candle in memory of her dad during their wedding ceremony, which was held at the Australia Zoo gardens March 25, 2020. Her younger brother, Robert Irwin, walked her down the aisle in their father’s place. Steve Irwin’s wife, Terri Irwin, wrote on Twitter Steve Irwin would have worn khaki to his daughter’s wedding. She said on the special episode of “Crikey! It’s the Irwins!” that Steve Irwin would have cried during the ceremony.
Bindi and Chandler’s wedding plans changed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Chandler Powell’s family couldn’t be there because of travel restrictions due to COVID-19, but some members of Bindi Irwin’s family could still be there because they all live together at the Australia Zoo, which served as their venue.
Read on for more details about how Steve Irwin died, but be forewarned they are graphic and tragic.
Here’s what you need to know:
Steve Irwin’s Cameraman Vividly Recalled the Stingray Attack That Claimed His Friend’s Life & Said Earlier Accounts Were Not Accurate
Steve Irwin’s cameraman, Justin Lyons, was the only witness to the attack that left The Crocodile Hunter dead a few hours later. Some dramatic accounts surfaced quickly about Irwin pulling a stingray barb from his heart, but those stories were not true, according to the man that was there. You can watch the video of his interview here. Lyons said Irwin did not pull or try to pull a stingray barb from his chest, and explained that the barb was never lodged in Irwin’s heart.
“It didn’t come out [of the stingray’s tail]. Steve didn’t pull it out,” Lyons said.
They were filming “Ocean’s Deadliest” and looking for tiger sharks that day, but they’d had bad weather and were unable to do what they’d planned.
“Steve was like a caged tiger when he couldn’t do something, particularly on a boat, so he said ‘Let’s go and do something,'” Lyons said.
They quickly came across the “massive” and “impressive” 8-foot wide stingray. Lyons noted in the interview stingrays are usually very docile, and if they don’t want to be around a human they simply swim away.
“We stood up and said, ‘One last shot. You swim up from behind the animal, and I’ll try and get a shot of it swimming away,'” Lyons recalled.
He expected he’d get a great shot that would definitely be used in the documentary.
“All of a sudden it propped on its front and started stabbing wildly with its tale,” he said, motioning vigorously with his hand. “Hundreds of strikes in a few seconds. They’re incredibly powerful animals and they’ve been on the planet for 60 million years. So, they’ve survived because they are survivors.”
He speculated the stingray thought Irwin’s shadow was a tiger shark, which prey on stingrays.
Lyons didn’t realize what had happened, and simply panned to get the shot of the stingray swimming away. When he panned back, he saw Irwin was standing in a pool of blood. Even then, he did not process the damage that was caused.
“It’s crazy what goes through your head,” he said. “But the first thing I thought of was, ‘We’ve got to get out of the water because we’re attracting sharks.”
“It was seconds, but it felt like forever because time really did slow down for me there,” he added.
He described the barb in detail, and said the initial published accounts were not correct.
“Contrary to what I read in the papers, and everything I heard at the time, which was just incorrect – the stingray barb was a blade, about a foot, extending out the middle part of its tail. So it’s not at the tip of the tail. It’s about in the middle. It’s a bit like a fingernail. And the other half is embedded in the tail of the stingray. It didn’t come out. Steve didn’t pull it out. It’s a jagged, sharp barb, and it went through his chest like a knife through butter,” he said. “He thought it had punctured his lung, and he stood up out of the water and screamed, ‘It’s punctured me lung!'”
It is no coincidence that Bindi Irwin is following in her father’s footsteps in taking risks with wild animals. Researchers said on an ABC News video at the time of Irwin’s death that risk-taking tendencies are partially genetic, based on the amount of dopamine a brain craves.
“They’re sort of natural-born rule breakers, and they’re always pushing the envelope and trying new things, and they’re often quite creative and they sometimes break the rules,” a researcher told ABC News.
Bindi Irwin was 8 when her father died, and his youngest son, Bob Irwin, was only 2. They and their mom, Terri, were on a family vacation when Irwin died and returned home early when they learned what happened.
Bindi wrote to her father on Instagram the night before her wedding.
“Thank you for being my guiding light,” she wrote. “You’re always with me.”
Steve Irwin’s Final Words Were ‘I’m Dying’ & His Cameraman Told Him to Think About His Kids
Neither Steve Irwin nor his cameraman initially understood how badly he was hurt. The cameraman, Justin Lyons, said his first thought was to get out of the water so Irwin’s blood did not attract sharks. Irwin thought the stingray had only punctured his lung – a serious but survivable injury. It wasn’t long before reality set in for everyone involved.
“We threw him into the boat, and assessed the situation for about five seconds,” Lyons recalled in an exclusive interview with Australia’s Studio 10. “He had about a 2-inch injury over his heart with blood and fluid coming out of it, and we thought we’ve got to get him back to the boat as fast as we can.”
Lyons said stingrays have venom on their barbs, which would make the injury “excruciatingly painful.” Irwin had a very high pain threshold, so Lyons knew that the level of pain Irwin appeared to be experiencing meant the injury was very serious. Irwin knew his lung was punctured because he was having trouble breathing, but he did not know about the damage to his heart, which Lyons said was “massive.” Even if he’d been in an emergency room immediately, he said he did not think Irwin could have been saved.
Lyons said he had another crew member put his hand over Irwin’s wound.
“I was saying to him things like, ‘Think of your kids, Steve. Hang on, hang on, hang on,'” he said. “He just sort of calmly looked up at me and said, ‘I’m dying,” and that was the last thing he said.”
Irwin lost consciousness, and they brought him to the main boat, where Lyons started CPR. He said they were hoping for a miracle. He continued CPR for about an hour, until they got to shore and a medical helicopter took Irwin to the hospital.
“They pronounced him dead within 10 seconds of looking at him,” Lyons said.
He said the way Irwin died – by a typically docile stingray – was shocking. But he said it made sense that Irwin would die in a “weird” way.
“It was probably always going to be something weird with Steve,” Lyons said. “I mean a crocodile or a shark, he was so good with animals, nothing was going to get him. We always thought it would be something- We thought he was going to live forever but we always thought it would be a crazy, silly accident, and as it turns out, that’s exactly what it was.”
Steve Irwin’s son, Robert Irwin, paid tribute to his late father in a recreation of one of his dad’s photos on Instagram.
“Dad and me feeding Murray… same place, same croc – two photos 15 years apart,” Irwin wrote.
Video Claiming to Show Steve Irwin’s Death Does Not Match the Description of the Final Footage of the Crocodile Hunter
Videos that circulated online claim to show the stingray attack on Steve Irwin and his final moments. However, his cameraman, Justin Lyons, told Australia’s Studio 10 in video interview in 2014 that the video of Steve Irwin’s death should not be made public. Some videos online say they show the stingray attack on Steve Irwin, but they do not match the description of the video Lyons shot.
“I panned with the camera as the stingray swam away. I didn’t even know it had caused any damage,” he said on the video. “It wasn’t until I panned the camera back… Steve was standing in a huge pool of blood.”
Lyons was shooting footage for the documentary, “Ocean’s Deadliest.” They were in chest-deep water near Queensland, Australia when they found an 8-foot wide stingray. The pair shot footage they planned to use for a different project. After conferring about the footage they had so far, they decided to go underwater for “one last shot” of Irwin behind the stingray before it swam off into the ocean.
“I thought, ‘This is going to be a great shot,” Lyons told Studio 10.
Steve Irwin Told Bindi She Could Only Marry a Man Who Could Swim Across the Crocodile Pond – and Chandler Did
Like many fathers, Steve Irwin would tell his young daughter about the man he had in mind for her to marry. The daughter of The Crocodile Hunter could only marry someone who could swim across the crocodile pond, he would tell her. Bindi Irwin became a conservationist herself and shared her mother and father’s love for wildlife. So it would stand to reason that the man she married would meet her late father’s death-defying expectations.
Bindi Irwin wrote a touching post on Instagram, sharing about the moment she knew she was in love with Chandler Powell.
“My dad used to say that I couldn’t marry anyone unless he could swim across the croc pond first,” she wrote. “And now, here you are, helping us during our regular crocodile demonstrations. One of your jobs is to jump into the water with our biggest crocs to help encourage them home! They say there’s a moment when you know you’ve fallen in love with someone, for me it was watching you happily jump in the water with a 15 foot crocodile and then tell me how much you enjoyed it. You are my soulmate. I promise to love you with all my heart through every twist and turn the world brings our way.”
Robert Irwin, Bindi Irwin’s younger brother, walked his sister down the aisle. Terri Irwin shared a photo of Robert Irwin and Steve Irwin on Twitter, recalling that the two wore matching khaki to Robert Irwin’s first wedding. She said he would have likely worn a similar look to his daughter’s wedding.
“Remembering @RobertIrwin’s first wedding,” she wrote. “I love that Steve and Robert both wore khaki. I know Steve would have worn khaki to Bindi & Chandler’s wedding, too. I wish he could have been there to see the most special day in his daughter’s life. We miss him so much.”
Terri Irwin talked about her daughter’s wedding on the special’s trailer, and said she thinks Steve Irwin would have cried happy tears during the ceremony.
“I know that Steve would be proud,” she said. ‘And I’m pretty sure he’d be crying.”
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