Steve Irwin is seen with a crocodile in San Francisco, California, in 2002. File picture: Justin Sullivan

The cameraman who witnessed the death of Australian “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin, pictured, has revealed a stingray stabbed at him “hundreds of times” and his final words were: “I’m dying.”

The television personality and conservationist, who became world-famous for his daring stunts with dangerous animals, died aged 44 in 2006 while filming a documentary on the Great Barrier Reef in far-north Queensland.

Justin Lyons was the cameraman at the time and shot a video of the tragic death, which was later handed to Irwin’s widow Terri and was never aired.

In his first public comments, Lyons told Australia’s Channel Ten he and Irwin had left their main boat in an inflatable to find something to film when they came across a “massive” 2.4m-wide stingray in chest-high water.

The final shot was to be the stingray swimming away from Irwin. Instead, it struck out, apparently believing Irwin’s shadow was a tiger shark, one of its predators.

“I had the camera on, I thought: ‘this is going to be a great shot’, and all of sudden it propped on its front and started stabbing wildly, hundreds of strikes in a few seconds,” Lyons said.

“It was only when I panned the camera back that I saw Steve standing in a huge pool of blood.

“I realised something had gone wrong.”

He said reports that a barb had stuck in Irwin’s chest and he pulled it out were wrong.

“It’s a jagged barb and it went through his chest like a hot knife through butter,” he corrected. “He had a 5cm-wide injury over his heart with blood and fluid coming out of it and we had to get him back to the boat as fast as we could.

“I was saying to him things like: ‘think of your kids Steve, hang on, hang on, hang on’, and he calmly looked up at me and said: ‘I’m dying’ and that was the last thing he said.”

Known for his “Crikey!” catch phrase, Irwin has had a wildlife reserve, a road, a turtle, a snail and an anti-whaling ship named after him since he died. – Sapa-AFP