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`Crocodile Hunter' pulled out stingray's barb in final moments

Updated:
BEERWAH, Australia (AP) _ Steve Irwin pulled a poisonous stingray barb from his chest in his dying moments, his longtime manager said Tuesday, after watching videotape of the attack that killed the popular ``Crocodile Hunter.''

Irwin's body was returned home to Beerwah, a hamlet in southeastern Queensland on the fringe of the Outback where he lived with his wife and two young children. Irwin turned a modest reptile park opened by his parents into Australia Zoo, a wildlife reserve that has become an international tourist attraction.

Hundreds placed bouquets and handwritten notes at an ad hoc shrine to the popular 44-year-old naturalist outside the park, and other tributes flowed in from Canberra to Hollywood.

The dramatic details of Irwin's death Monday as he was shooting a program on the Great Barrier Reef were disclosed by John Stainton, his manager and close friend. He said he had viewed the videotape showing the TV star pulling the poisonous stingray barb from his chest.

``It shows that Steve came over the top of the ray and the tail came up, and spiked him here (in the chest), and he pulled it out, and the next minute he's gone,'' Stainton told reporters in Cairns, the nearest city to tiny Batt Reef off Australia's far northeast coast where the accident happened.

Stainton said the video was ``shocking.''

``It's a very hard thing to watch, because you are actually witnessing somebody die, and it's terrible,'' he said.

The tape was not released to the public. Queensland state police took possession of a copy for a coroner's investigation.

Stainton estimated Irwin's distance from the stingray when the attack happened at about three feet.

State police Superintendent Michael Keating said Irwin was ``interacting'' with the stingray when it flicked its tail and speared his chest with the bone-hard serrated spine it bore _ the normally placid animal's main defense mechanism.

``There is no evidence Mr. Irwin was threatening or intimidating the stingray,'' Keating said, addressing speculation that a man who became famous by leaping on crocodiles and snatching up snakes must have been too close for the animal's comfort.

Irwin's boundless energy and daredevil antics around deadly beasts made him a household name as the Discovery Channel's ``The Crocodile Hunter,'' with a reported audience of more than 200 million.

Australia's leaders interrupted Parliament's normal business to eulogize Irwin.

``He was a genuine, one-off, remarkable Australian individual and I am distressed at his death,'' Prime Minister John Howard said.

His opposition counterpart, Kim Beazley, said: ``He was not only a great Aussie bloke, he was determined to instill his passion for the environment and its inhabitants in everybody he met.''

Friend and Oscar-winner Russell Crowe said from New York: ``He was and remains the ultimate wildlife warrior.''

The U.S. Embassy issued a statement saying Irwin was an unofficial Australian ambassador to the United States.

``With his humor and irrepressible sense of adventure, he represented those things our citizens find most appealing about Australia and its wonderful way of life,'' it said.

Hundreds of people journeyed Tuesday to Australia Zoo to remember Irwin.

Tia Koivisto drove her daughter Ella, 3, for more than an hour from the Queensland capital of Brisbane to lay a floral tribute.

``I was quite moved by what happened, I felt I had to come up and pay my respects,'' Koivisto said.

People thronged around the entrance of the park, near a billboard featuring Irwin holding a crocodile in his arms and his catch phrase, ``Crikey!''

It reopened the day after Irwin's death following a staff meeting to discuss its future.

``We're all devastated,'' said Gail Gipp, the park's hospital wildlife manager. ``It is very surreal at the moment. We're determined to carry on what he would have wanted.''

There was no condolence book, but mourners lined up to sign messages onto khaki work shirts _ another Irwin trademark _ that were draped outside the gate. Someone placed flowers in the mouth of a wooden crocodile nearby.

``Mate, you made the world a better place,'' read one poster left at the gate. ``Steve, our hero, our legend, our wildlife warrior,'' read another.

``I thought you were immortal. How I wish that was true,'' said a third.

Zoo spokesman Peter Lang said Irwin's wife, Terri, of Eugene, Ore., daughter Bindi, 8, and son Bob, 2, arrived Monday night from the island state of Tasmania, where they had been vacationing when Irwin was killed.

The family hasn't spoken about Irwin's death or announced funeral plans, although Queensland Premier Peter Beattie offered a state funeral.

``We'll never replace Steve,'' said Michael Hornby, head of the Wildlife Warriors, one of the Irwin family's conservation charities. ``He was part of the family, like he came out of the television set and into your living room. That's why there's been such an outpouring of emotion here and around the world. Everybody thought they knew him.''
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