Steve Irwin's Cameraman: 'We Thought He Was Going to Live Forever'
03/10/2014 AT 02:20 PM EDT
"We're saying to him things like, 'Think of your kids, Steve, hang on, hang on, hang on,'" Justin Lyons told Australian morning show Studio 10 on Sunday. "And he just sort of calmly looked up at me and said, 'I'm dying,' and that was the last thing he said."
Irwin, beloved host of Animal Planet's The Crocodile Hunter, was killed in September 2006 by a stingray while shooting a documentary off the coast of Australia. He was 44.
Now, the friend Irwin called his "right-hand man" is speaking out about the tragedy for the first time, disputing earlier reports that Irwin may have goaded the typically calm stingray. As Lyons prepared to film the creature swimming away from Irwin, it attacked.
"All of a sudden it propped on its front and started stabbing wildly with its tail, hundreds of strikes in a few seconds," he said. "It probably thought that Steve's shadow was a tiger shark, which feeds on them very regularly. … 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, that Steve was standing in a huge pool of blood, that I realized something had gone wrong."
Lyons, who pulled Irwin from the water and performed CPR, gave a grisly description of his diving partner's injuries, calling claims that the barb on the stingray's tail had stuck in Irwin's chest incorrect.
"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 hot knife through butter. He thought it had punctured his lung," Lyons said. "He had about a two-inch-wide injury over his heart with blood and fluid coming out of it."
Lyons said he does not know where his footage of the accident is, but he hopes it will remain unseen. Irwin's wife Terri previously told Access Hollywood all video had been destroyed.
As for the irony that a normally docile stingray took out the man who wrestled crocodiles, Lyons recalled thinking that only an unexpected species could harm the great wildlife advocate.
"It was probably always going to be something weird with Steve. I mean, a crocodile or a shark, he was so good with animals, nothing was going to get him," he said. "We thought he was going to live forever, but it would always be a crazy silly accident, and as it turns out that's exactly what it was."
Watch the Studio 10 interview below: