13 Aug 2009

Coroner rules promising rugby league star drowned

6:48 pm on 13 August 2009

The Chief Coroner has ruled rising rugby league star Sonny Fai drowned after being caught in a rip at Bethells Beach, west of Auckland.

About 30 family and friends attended an inquest into the 20-year-old's presumed drowning on Thursday.

Sonny Fai and members of his family had gone swimming at the beach in January this year.

Detective Sergeant Eugene Pickett told the court Sonny Fai entered the water after surf patrol hours in an apparent calm stretch, which was in fact a rip.

He quickly struggled in the strong water and an extensive search failed to find his body.

Chief Coroner Neil MacLean told the court Bethells Beach is a beautiful location but a dangerous one.

He ruled that Fai died that day and may have perished because he saved his brother from the rip before trying to save himself.

Judge MacLean says Fai was a strong man but not a strong swimmer.

He says a permanent phone landline should be considered for the beach due to the patchy mobile coverage.

Relief for family

Sonny Fai's family says the ruling will bring it some closure.

His sister, Lalelei Fai, says it was important to have a decision, even though it was difficult to hear her brother officially declared dead.

Ms Fai says she agrees with comments in the hearing that more education is needed about water safety, particularly within the Pacific Island community.

She says she wants to take an active role in promoting water safety, especially for those who do not go to the beach often.

Ms Fai says her family did not know there was a rip below the calm water when they went swimming.