Auckland memorial marks decade since Warriors star Sonny Fai's disappearance

A decade on from the disappearance of a promising Warriors rising star, his family is still vowing to make sure others learn from his fatal mistake. 

Sonny Fai was a professional rugby league player who stood 1.92m-tall and tipped the scales at 109kg. He made 15 appearances before being named in the New Zealand and Samoa training squads for the 2008 World Cup. 

He went missing in January 2009. The first memorial was held in 2010

Fai had been showing his family near where he trained at Bethells Beach on Auckland's West Coast when he got caught in an ocean rip and was dragged out to sea. His body was never found and a coroner presumed he had drowned.  

At a memorial on Friday, a yellow daffodil was sent out to where the Fai family last saw Sonny. 

A generation of nephews have been named after him, including the son of the brother Sonny had tried to save from the rip before he was swept out to sea 10 years ago. 

The frantic search in 2009 was inadvertently captured by a cameraman testing new equipment.

Friends who were swimming with Sonny that night say the beach feels like his home now. 

"Because we haven't found him, to me this is where he is until he's found," said friend Lafs Faraimo. 

Friday was the first time some of Sonny's siblings could bring themselves to return. 

"I know everyone is still grieving in their own way, but what we can do is remember him as a good person and have it motivate us to be better than we are," said sister Lalelei Tupulua. 

Sonny was only 14 when he was signed by the Warriors. His disappearance six years later was reported to the team as they arrived for their first day of pre-season training. 

For days, they joined search teams hoping to find him - including Ruben Wiki, who had become like an older brother after rooming with Sonny on tour. 

Wiki said on Friday the Warriors marked the day with a private tribute before training. He says the Fai family is always in their thoughts.

"I didn't want the tragic event that happened to him to just get us down as a family, especially the little ones - especially Colleen and Lesi because they're closest to him," said Ms Tupulua. 

"Just wanted him to be remembered for the good things he's done."

That includes a fixed emergency phone line at the beach following a coroner's recommendation. It means even those who weren't old enough to know their uncle know how he's helping to change the lives of others.


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