Steve Irwin knew that death was imminent just seconds after being struck in the chest by a stingray barb, his friend and former cameraman revealed in his first-ever interview about the popular TV naturalist's last words.
Justin Lyons revealed the final words of Irwin in a television interview, saying that a stingray's jagged barb punctured his chest dozens of times and left him with a massive injury to his heart.
"He was having trouble breathing. Even if we'd been able to get him into an emergency ward at that moment we probably wouldn't have been able to save him, because the damage to his heart was massive," Lyons told Australia's Network Ten television. "As we're motoring back I'm screaming at one of the other crew in the boat to put their hand over the wound and we're saying to him things like, 'Think of your kids, Steve, hang on, hang on, hang on.' He just sort of calmly looked up at me and said, 'I'm dying.' And that was the last thing he said."
Lyons was the only person actually with Steve Irwin when he suffered the fatal injury on September 4, 2006. The pair had been working for a week filming footage for a series called Ocean's Deadliest on the Great Barrier Reef, and were in search of a tiger shark when they came across a nearly 8-foot stingray.
Stingrays are usually docile, but Lyons think the animal mistook Steve Irwin for a tiger shark, its main predator. Lyons said the final shot ever captured showed Irwin swimming up to the stingray and the animal suddenly and violently attacking. The cameraman said he destroyed the footage so it would never be seen.
"I had the camera on. I thought – this is going to be a great shot, fantastic," Lyons said. "All of a sudden it propped on its front and started stabbing wildly with its tail, hundreds of strikes in a few seconds."
At first Irwin thought he only punctured his lung, but Lyons said once he was inside the boat Irwin understood the grave nature of the puncture wound.
"It's a jagged, sharp barb and it went through his chest like a hot knife through butter," Lyons said.
Lyons said he did the best he could to save his friend, performing CPR for more than an hour and hoping for a miracle. But medics declared Steve Irwin dead within 10 seconds of looking at him, Lyons said.