The events were caught on camera, and a copy of the footage was handed to the Queensland Police. In an interview with TIME, marine documentary filmmaker and former spearfisherman Ben Cropp concluded that Irwin had accidentally boxed the ray in, causing it to attack: "It stopped and twisted and threw up its tail with the spike, and it caught him in the chest.... It's a defensive thing. It's like being stabbed with a dirty dagger.... It's a one-in-a-million thing. I have swum with many rays, and I have only had one do that to me."
Irwin's colleague, John Staintonstated, "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."
It is thought, in the absence of a coroner's report, that a combination of the toxins and the puncture wound from the spine caused Irwin to die of cardiac arrest, with most of the damage being inflicted by tears to arteries or other main blood vessels. A similar incident in Florida a month later, in which a man survived a stingray barb through the heart, suggested that Irwin's removing the barb might have caused or hastened his death.
Crew members aboard his boat called the emergency services in the nearest city of Cairns and administered CPR as they rushed the boat to the nearby Low Islets to meet an emergency rescue helicopter. However, despite the best efforts of Irwin's crew, medical staff pronounced him dead when they arrived a short time later. According to Dr Ed O'Loughlin, who treated Irwin, "it became clear fairly soon that he had non-survivable injuries. He had a penetrating injury to the left front of his chest. He had lost his pulse and wasn't breathing."