A world exclusive with Justin Lyons, the underwater cameraman who was with Steve Irwin when he passed away.
THE cameraman present at Steve Irwin’s death has today opened up about the beloved conservationist’s final moments, revealing his final chilling words: “I’m dying.”
Underwater cameraman Justin Lyons was the sole witness to Irwin’s death — the only person underwater with him as they filmed wildlife on the Great Barrier Reef in 2006. On this morning’s episode of Network Ten’s Studio 10 program, he spoke publicly for the first time about Irwin’s last moments.
Irwin and crew were eight days into a shoot for a new nature documentary called Ocean’s Deadliest. Chartering a small inflatable boat through chest-deep water, they came across a “massive, eight-foot-wide stingray”.
“Stingrays are normally very calm — if they don’t want you to be near them, they’ll swim away,” Lyons told hosts Jessica Rowe and Ita Buttrose.
“We stood up and said, ‘One last shot. You swim up from behind the animal and I’ll try to get a shot of it swimming away’.”
“All of a sudden it propped on its front and started stabbing wildly with its tail. Hundreds of strikes in a few seconds.”
Lyons said he thought the stingray had probably mistaken Irwin’s shadow for a tiger shark, as they are the rays’ natural predators.
“I panned with the camera as the stingray swam away — I didn’t even know it had caused any damage. It wasn’t until I panned the camera back and Steve was standing in a huge pool of blood that I realised something was wrong.”
Lyons explained that, contrary to media reports in the aftermath of the tragedy, Irwin never tried to remove the barb from his chest.
“The stingray barb was a blade of about a foot extending out of the tail. Steve didn’t pull it out; it’s a jagged, sharp barb and it went through Steve’s chest like a hot knife through butter.”
Irwin initially thought it had punctured his lung. They threw him back into the inflatable boat.
“We assessed the situation for about five seconds. He had a two-inch injury over his heart with blood coming out of it.”
He was in extraordinary pain — they’ve got a venom on their barb, so I knew it must’ve been painful.”
As they raced back to shore, Lyons told Irwin to think of his children, Bindi and Robert.
“He just sort of calmly looked up at me and said, ‘I’m dying’. And that was the last thing he said,” he said.
“We hoped for a miracle. I did CPR on him for over an hour before the medics came, but then they pronounced him dead within 10 seconds of looking at him.”
Another cameraman continued filming throughout the ordeal, in keeping with a longstanding order from Irwin that cameras capture any attack or accident he may suffer while filming.
Despite this, Lyons said he didn’t think the footage of the incident should ever be released — and that he didn’t know if it even existed anymore.
“Never. Out of respect for his family, I would say never.”