Photograph by Edgar Su, Reuters
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Diver Philip Chan was killed by a stingray at the Underwater World Singapore aquarium this week. In this photo, he appears dressed as Santa Claus during a Christmas event in 2013.

Photograph by Edgar Su, Reuters

Rare Fatality Mirrors 'Crocodile Hunter' Death by Stingray

A freak incident killed a 62-year-old diver in Singapore, in circumstances similar to the death of Steve Irwin in 2006.

An aquarium worker in Singapore has died after being stung in the chest by a stingray, Underwater World Singapore announced Wednesday.

Philip Chan, 62, the aquarium’s head diver, was prepping stingrays for transfer to another aquarium Tuesday when he was hit. Chan was taken to a hospital, where he died.

"This was a tragic accident," the aquarium’s owner, Haw Par Corporation, said in a statement.

The aquarium, which opened in 1991, has been closed to the public since June and has been working on transferring its animals to other captive facilities. It's been operating with a skeleton crew of employees during its decommissioning process.

Transfer of animals has been suspended pending investigations into Chan's death.

The tragic incident calls to mind the death of Australian conservationist "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, who died in 2006 after being stung multiple times by a stingray off the Great Barrier Reef.

The venomous barb of a ray pierced Irwin’s heart in an incident authorities called a rare freak accident. Footage of the encounter at Batt Reef was recorded, and "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,” Irwin's friend, director, and producer John Stainton said in a press conference at the time.

“And the next minute he's gone. That was it. The cameraman had to shut down."

Such deaths are extremely rare, scientists say. Normally wary of people, stingrays are not considered aggressive and typically use their venom-tipped tails only under duress. Rather than a targeted attack, incidents often appear more as a defensive reflex.

Since stingrays can be found in shallow coastal waters in many parts of the world, experts often advise caution when entering the water, to avoid stepping on or surprising a ray that may be lurking on the bottom.