A LIFE-long friend of Steve Irwin today told how the Crocodile Hunter pulled a deadly stingray barb from his own chest before losing consciousness and dying.
Friend John Stainton said he had viewed footage of his friend's last moments and the images were "shocking".
"It's a very hard thing to watch because you're actually witnessing somebody die ... and it's terrible," he said.
"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.
"That was it. The cameraman had to shut down."
Irwin, 44, was filming a television program on the Great Barrier Reef off far north Queensland when the drama unfolded yesterday.
Mr Stainton said Irwin's wife, Terri, who rushed to Queensland from a holiday in Tasmania after being told of the tragedy, was putting on a brave face for the sake of her children.
"I think she's being very strong," he said in Cairns, where Irwin's body has been taken.
"I think for the children's sake she has to be strong because they're at a very impressionable age, as you know.
"Bindi's eight and little Robert's coming up to three, so he may not totally understand, but Bindi certainly does.
"She's very mindful of how she has to control her emotions to get the kids through it."
Terri Irwin remained at the family home on the Sunshine Coast with her children today and Mr Stainton said she had no plans to go to Cairns.
The loss of an Australian icon has made headlines around the world and sparked tributes from all walks of life, with NEWS.com.au readers among the many keen to pass on their condolences.
Irwin was killed while shooting footage for a new show he was doing with Bindi.
Terri would have the final say on whether film from the project was made public, the head of the US TV company that broadcasts his show said today.
Film of the death has already been handed to Queensland police preparing a report for the Coroner.
Billy Campbell, the president of Discovery Networks, which owns the Animal Planet channel, said talks on the footage would take place with Terri at a suitable time.
"It's still too early," Mr Campbell said. "We'll have to take a look at it."
Mr Campbell, who will fly to Australia for Irwin's funeral, said he would also ask Terri whether she would like Bindi's show to go ahead.
"In terms of the Bindi show, a lot of that will depend on the conversations I have with Terri in a couple of days," he said.
"I want to give her a few days to mourn and think through things. "We'll talk about that in due time.
"Should they want to move forward, then definitely we will move forward."
Irwin was killed almost instantly when the stingray stabbed him in the heart with its poisonous 20cm barb as he snorkelled off Port Douglas.
He was pulled from the water by a cameraman and a crewman, put on an inflatable tender and taken to a support boat about 500m away.
Crewmembers said he was barely conscious in the minutes after the sting, but died as his production team rushed him to his vessel, Croc One, and to a nearby island for emergency treatment.
A charter dive boat crew desperately tried to revive him on the beach, but were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead shortly afterwards by Queensland Rescue Service officers, who had flown to the area by helicopter.
Irwin's body was last night flown to Cairns where a post-mortem confirmed the cause of death.
"We're not going into the detail but there's definitely no surprises. Everyone knows how he died," a police spokeswoman said.
One of Irwin's contemporaries, internationally known cameraman and spearfisherman Ben Cropp, was in his own boat off Port Douglas when Irwin was killed.
Mr Cropp said the stingray was spooked and went into defensive mood.
"It probably felt threatened because Steve was alongside and there was the cameraman ahead, and it felt there was danger and it baulked.
"It stopped and went into a defensive mode and swung its tail with the spike.
"Steve unfortunately was in a bad position and copped it.
"I have had that happen to me, and I can visualise it - when a ray goes into defensive, you get out of the way.
"Steve was so close he could not get away, so if you can imagine it - being right beside the ray and it swinging its spine upwards from underneath Steve - and it hit him.
"I have seen that sort of reaction with rays - with their tail breaking the water, such is the force."
Surf Lifesavers national marine stinger adviser Lisa-Ann Gershwin said there had only been 17 fatal stingray attacks worldwide. "I think it's just an extraordinary freak accident that has happened to his heart," she said.
"A lot of people will be afraid by this, but they need to keep in mind that this was a freak accident, it was a terrible tragedy but it is not common."
Dr Gershwin said stingray stings to the legs or arms were common and, while painful, were not normally considered dangerous. She said there were many different types of stingrays, with barbs on their tails up to 30cm long, and they poisoned victims with a range of toxins.