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`Crocodile Hunter' yanked out barb

BEERWAH, Australia -- Steve Irwin pulled a poisonous stingray barb from his chest in his dying moments, his longtime manager said yesterday, after watching videotape of the attack that killed the popular ``Crocodile Hunter."

Irwin's body was returned home to Beerwah, a hamlet in southeastern Queensland on the fringe of the Outback where he lived with his wife and two young children. Irwin turned a modest reptile park opened by his parents into Australia Zoo, a wildlife reserve that has become an international tourist attraction.

Hundreds placed bouquets and handwritten notes at an ad hoc shrine to the popular 44-year-old naturalist outside the park, and other tributes flowed in from Canberra to Hollywood.

The dramatic details of Irwin's death Monday as he was shooting a program on the Great Barrier Reef were disclosed by John Stainton, his manager and close friend. He said he had viewed the videotape showing the TV star pulling the poisonous stingray barb from his chest.

``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," Stainton told reporters in Cairns, the nearest city to tiny Batt Reef off Australia's far northeast coast where the accident happened.

The tape was not released to the public. Queensland State Police took possession of a copy for a coroner's investigation.

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