Five years on, remembering late Sonny Fai

LIAM HYSLOP
Last updated 05:00 04/01/2014
Fairfax NZ

It's five years since the drowning of up and coming rugby league star Sonny Fai - but the tributes remain at Bethells Beach Surf Club.

Sonny Fai
Photosport
NOT FORGOTTEN: Sonny Fai takes part in a photoshoot for the New Zealand Warriors back in 2006.

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Today marks five years since the tragic drowning of promising rugby league player Sonny Fai.

The New Zealand Warriors prospect disappeared into the surf at Bethells Beach, west of Auckland, after going to the rescue of his brother, Gillespie, who was caught in a rip.

Sonny Fai's body was never found.

Fairfax Media went back to Bethells Beach to talk to two of the people who helped search for Fai that fateful day.

Bethells Beach senior lifeguard Kylan Dray-Hogg had been patrolling the beach for three days leading up to the incident.

On January 4, 2009, he left the beach at 7pm, two hours later than normal because it was so busy.

Soon after he received an urgent call asking him to come back.

"I got home and we got a callout and they said there was someone in trouble so we immediately came back out," Dray-Hogg said.

"I remember hearing there was someone in the water and my brother and I jumped in the boat and we searched until we flipped, which was in the dark. We couldn't see anymore and it was just gnarly, gnarly conditions that night."

Dealing with a tragedy like that was an unfortunate part of being a lifeguard, Dray-Hogg said.

Bethells Beach surf club president Adrian Jenkins said the search had left an indelible mark on the area.

"It went on for a long time that search and it left its mark," Jenkins said.

"We felt for the families and we did our best and sometimes we probably felt that we could have done better as we couldn't recover Sonny."

A speech by former Warriors captain Steve Price about the incident at a recent surf club awards night had really hit home with the Bethells Beach club.

"We were quite taken aback by the speech," Jenkins said.

Price spoke of a turtle which had washed up at Murawai after the incident, a symbol of Sonny which Price had tattooed on his shoulder.

The club were so moved by this that when they received a new all-terrain vehicle from Yamaha they put a large turtle sticker on it.

The turtle had become a symbol throughout the club, Jenkins said.

The memories of that day had stayed with everyone at the club, Jenkins said.

"It never goes away; there is a memorial down the road here for Sonny Fai and it is never that far away from our thoughts."

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