The whereabouts of footage capturing Steve Irwin’s harrowing final moments remains a mystery 17 years on from his tragic death.
The beloved conservationist was killed when he was barbed by a stingray on September 4, 2006, at Batt Reef near Port Douglas in far north Queensland with the news sending shockwaves across Australia and around the world.
Camera crews worked desperately to try to save the environmental icon before getting him to shore, where paramedics performed CPR – but he died before reaching the hospital.
The entire incident was caught on camera for the TV program, Ocean’s Deadliest, with tapes handed over to authorities to help their investigation into his death.
The footage has never seen the light of day, thanks to the wishes of Irwin’s close friends and family.
Monday marked the 17th anniversary of Irwin’s sudden death with his wife Terri and their children Bindi and Robert leading the outpouring of tributes.
Friend and family have ensured the tape showing the tragic death of Steve Irwin (pictured) has never seen the light of day
The family still run Australia Zoo on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast with the tourist attraction also paying tribute on Monday.
All copies of the footage that captured Irwin’s death were destroyed immediately after authorities completed their investigation in 2007, except for one.
The whereabouts of this footage is shrouded in mystery but is believed to be sitting in a dusty police vault somewhere, according to Irwin’s widow Terri.
Irwin had ordered all his teams to film everything that happened regardless of the dire situation, with the horrific footage immediately handed over to authorities who were investigating his death
‘He tells his camera crew to always be filming,’ Irwin’s IMDb biographer Tommy Donovan once said.
‘If he needs help he will ask for it. Even if he is eaten by a shark or croc, the main thing he wants is that it be filmed. If he died he would be sad if no one got it on tape.’
Irwin’s best mate and director John Stainton vowed at the time of the tragedy that he would ensure the video was never made public, insisting the footage was far too distressing to ever be shown.
‘When that is finally released [after being investigated], it will never see the light of day. Ever. Ever,’ Stainton told CNN host Larry King in an emotional interview shortly after Irwin’s death in 2006.
‘I actually saw it, but I don’t want to see it again.’
‘I would never want that tape shown.’
Steve Irwin is pictured with Bindi and Terri
Irwin’s best mate and director John Stainton (pictured left with Irwin said the footage of his death would ‘never see the light of day’ and admitted he wished he’d never watched it
In a tragic twist, Irwin was not meant to be at sea on that day as filming for his show “Ocean’s Deadliest” was cancelled due to bad weather.
Bored at his hotel with his cameraman Justin Lyons and director Stainton, the trio embarked on a small boat to Batt Reef off the Port Douglas coast.
After failing to track a deadly tiger shark off the reef, Irwin locked in on a large, eight-foot stingray for a separate project they were working on, believed to be his daughter’s Bindi the Jungle Girl show.
“Suddenly, he expressed interest in encountering some typically harmless stingrays. It should have been an innocuous encounter for a children’s program,’ Stainton recalled.
Irwin swam above the usually docile and harmless stingray, before it projected one of its barbs into his chest – potentially mistaking him for a shark.
Rays use the barbs, which are three venomous spinal blades in its tail, as a defence mechanism when threatened or stepped on.
The stingray pierced Irwin’s chest as he swam over it and struck his heart, with crews rushing the icon to their boat.
‘It went through his chest like a hot knife through butter,’ Lyons recalled.
Irwin told his team the ray ‘punctured me lung’ after being hit, not realising it had instead struck his heart.
‘It probably thought Steve’s shadow was a tiger shark, who feeds on them pretty regularly, so it started to attack him,’ Lyons recalled.
‘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.’
Stainton accompanied Irwin’s body on a seaplane back from Cairns following his death before watching as his wife Terri and children Bindi and Robert arrived to see his casket for the first time.
‘I travelled on the plane with him for six hours, just him and I. For five hours, I couldn’t stop crying. It was devastating,’ he said.
Australia mourned the loss of one of its favourite sons with his funeral broadcast internationally from his beloved Australia Zoo in Queensland in the days following.
It has been reported Terri was handed the final copy of her husband’s last moments.
Terri told You magazine in 2018: ‘After Steve died, 100 million viewers watched video of his death that was released on YouTube.’
‘That film was a complete fabrication exploiting people’s sadness. I have never watched the real footage. Why would I? I know how my husband died and I was relieved that the children weren’t on the boat as they usually would be; it would have been horrendous if they had witnessed it.’
Terri paid tribute to her late husband on Monday by sharing a flashback snap of the Aussie icon in a reflective mood with his dog.
‘Remembering Steve,’ the post read.
Bindi shared this flashback photo as a little girl with her beloved dad on the anniversary of his death on Monday
Bindi and Robert, who were aged eight and two respectively when they dad died have also paid several tribute in recent days.
The anniversary of his death came one day after Father’s Day.
‘Today is Father’s Day here in Australia. Days like this are filled with so many different emotions, but above all, I choose to make it a happy day to remember the best moments with the best Dad,’ Robert wrote on Sunday.
Bindi commented: ‘Dad is SO. PROUD. OF. YOU. He’s always with us. Love you.
The footage was handed over to authorities who returned it after their investigation was complete. All copies were destroyed except for one which was given to wife Terri (centre)