Naomi Mitchell - September 25, 2006 19:36 EST

Joe McKnight has survived a stingray attack with just three stitches and a hole in his wetsuit.

He says he will no longer laugh at any jokes about the death of Australian television star Steve Irwin following his own close encounter while diving for crayfish with friends at Okiwi Bay on Saturday.

Mr McKnight was about 10m below the surface and swimming over a crevice when he suddenly felt a stab on his leg and looked down to see a 1m-wide stingray attached to him.

It remained attached for five seconds and when it pulled away there was a "squirt of blood".

"I sat on the bottom and thought, `Oh Christ'. My whole leg was numb."

Mr McKnight, aged 35, made his way up to the surface and called to his friends, who hauled him into the boat. They pulled up his wetsuit, applied a pressure bandage and headed back to shore.

"My friend said, "Mate, you're going to hospital."

Mr McKnight described the pain as a "dead leg with a bee sting on top of it".

The Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter flew him to Nelson Hospital and he was discharged about two hours later.

Mr McKnight said he had not lost his desire to head back into the water.

"I felt quite embarrassed.

"If (the sting) had been anywhere else ... I was lucky. I'm counting my blessings."

He did not know why the stingray had attacked him but now wonders whether he might have accidentally cornered it.

Nelson Underwater Club president Eric Simmons said he had only heard of one other stingray incident in his 15 years of diving, and "that was when they stood on one".

"You have got to remember this is defensive behaviour. A stingray doesn't go out to attack."

Mr Simmons did not think the latest incidents would discourage divers from venturing into the ocean.

A search of the Nelson Mail archives reveal three other stingray attacks in the region in the past eight years.

American tourist Chazz Marshall was injured by a stingray while snorkelling for mussels in Abel Tasman National Park in November 2002. The then 22-year-old suffered a punctured lung and spent one week in Nelson Hospital.

A 21-year-old Swiss tourist was struck in the hand at Golden Bay in February 2002, and 55-year-old Nelson fisherman was also hit in the hand at Torrent Bay in January 1998.