Steve Irwin's bizarre and tragic manner of death nearly played out again ... this time on a Florida beach where a stingray's venomous spine missed killing a woman by mere inches.
Kristie O'Brien was on Apollo Beach, South of Tampa, on Tuesday, and when she waded into the water she says she immediately felt a searing sting ... although she didn't know what was causing it.
It wasn't until she turned to walk out of the water that her husband -- who was on shore -- saw the live stingray hanging from Kristie's back ... with the barb on its tail buried about 4 inches into the skin near her right shoulder blade, just missing her lungs.
Kristie says she tried to stay calm, but felt like she was certainly going to die. She says Steve Irwin's death-by-stingray instantly popped into her head.
Paramedics arrived and used shears to cut off the stingray at the base of its tail, leaving the barb impaling Kristie. She was rushed to a hospital, where doctors carefully removed the animal's tail ... and started treatment to counter the stingray venom.
She's still hospitalized, but just to make sure there's no bacterial infection from the water. Kristie says she still has waves of pain at the puncture site, but insists she'll go back in the water.
Irwin, TV's 'Crocodile Hunter,' was killed in 2006 when a stingray's barb pierced his chest. Still, scientists say it's an incredibly rare way to die -- Kristie's doctors told her they'd never treated anyone for an upper body stingray attack.