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September 05, 2006

"Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin killed in freak diving accident

No sport is totally safe and for a while I occasionally listed diving accidents and fatalities in the news section of ScubaDiverInfo.com. I had set up Google alerts on "scuba," and, sadly, a good number of accident reports did come in. My guess is that's primarily the nature of news; generally it is only the bad news that is reported. I stopped reporting on bad news when there was criticism from a dive shop owner who has experienced tragedy in his life and who felt there was no need to highlight the bad.


Statistically, scuba diving is quite safe. According to Diving Science by Michael B. Strauss, MD, and Igor V. Aksenov, MD, PhD, there is only one injury that requires medical attention per thousand scuba dives, and of those, only a tenth require recompression, or one in every 10,000 scuba dives. What does that mean? Carol has about 2,000 dives under her belt and she is a responsible, conscientious diver. According to the statistics, by now she might have had two situations that required medical attention, and from what she told me I think that is the case. Chuck, my PADI instructor, has 11,000 dives, and he claims he's never had any real problems, though I may quiz him on that a bit more.


Sadly, bad things do happen. I was really shaken when I learned that "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin had died in a diving accident. Irwin, of course, was the boyish-looking, bubbly Australian nature documentary maker whose specialty was getting up close and personal with dangerous creatures. He did so in a unique, inimitable style that both highlighted and respected the animals. While he wrestled with crocodiles and had many up-close encounters with poisonous and otherwise dangerous creatures, he never failed to present them as beings with feelings, habits, lives. And he did so in an endearing, humorous style. Irwin's energy and enthusiasm was infectuous; he never did a boring show. As Americans we loved his Aussie accent, and his trademark expressions. "Crikey!" "She's a beaut!" "Oh, now he's cranky!" And so on.


I didn't even know Steve Irwin also did scuba diving, but that fits right in. On September 4, 2006, Irwin did underwater filming with his own production company off the Great Barrier Reef at Batt Reef at Low Isles. That is off the Port Douglas holiday resort north of Cairns, Queensland. I don't know how deep he was or what he was doing, but I have no doubt he got up close and personal with the creatures down there, as he always did with those gators and snakes. And this time a freak thing happened when the barb of a StingRay's tail punctured his chest. CNN reports that Irwin's cameraman was filming the whole scene, with Irwin over the top of the ray, the spike coming up, and Irwin pulling it out, but too late. [red CNN report on Steve Irwin's death]


Now the very name "StingRay" conjures up images of speed and a degree of reckless danger. General Motors named an early Corvette sports car the "StingRay." But StingRays are not dangerous, aggressive creatures. Like most sealife, they are passive and gentle and only seek to defend themselves. Many divers have swum with StingRays, and apparently there are very few reported serious accidents or deaths resulting from StingRay encounters.


But Steve Irwin's luck had run out. While StingRay barbs are poisonous, they are not usually deadly, but in this case, the barb punctured Irwin's artery or heart. Irwin was brought up by a rescue diver and emergency first aid was performed. It was too late. The Crocodile Hunter was dead. It's really quite shocking, and a reminder that accidents can happen to anyone. Steve Irwin was as familiar with large and potentially deadly animals as anyone, and he certainly knew what he was doing. And he was a qualifid PADI diver and most likely a good one. Yet, this happened. Very sad.

Posted by conradb212 at September 5, 2006 10:57 PM

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