The co-pilot of the TransAsia Airways plane that crashed into a bridge in Taiwan this week before ending up in a river was a New Zealand citizen who learned to fly in Auckland.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed last night that Chris Dsi-Chung Lau, 45, who was born in Taiwan, was a dual citizen of both countries.

Mr Lau, who was among at least 35 people killed, and pilot Jiangzhong Liao were hailed as heroes for their actions after issuing a mayday call moments before the aircraft plummeted into the Keelung River in Taipei on Wednesday.

The disaster was captured on video from vehicles on the bridge.

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Aviation experts said the death toll could have been higher had the pilots not narrowly avoided city buildings.

Mr Lau moved to Auckland from Hong Kong as a teenager with his family and attended Northcote College before studying flying at Ardmore Flying School, friend Boby So said last night.

Mr So said Mr Lau was a flight captain and was on leave when he got called in to take the co-pilot shift of the TransAsia flight to Kinmen Island.

"He was such a good guy and we are all in shock," said Mr So. "He was one of the nicest people I have ever met, just a really good guy."

Mr So, who lives in Hong Kong, said Mr Lau spent about 15 years in Auckland, where he completed flight training before continuing his career in Asia, studying and working in Singapore before settling back in Taiwan.

Mr Lau married about three years ago, but had no children, said Mr So.

His parents and an older brother and sister still live in New Zealand, but it was understood they have travelled to Taipei after the tragedy.

"He wasn't supposed to be on duty on that shift; he covered someone's shift."

Mr So said their families spent a lot of time together when they were younger because they all moved from Hong Kong about the same time, attended the same schools and at one point explored doing business together.

"My brother is really upset because they were really close friends; they were really close during college years. We understand his parents have already gone back to Taiwan ... We plan to go and pay our respects over there next week."

Mr Lau's passion for aviation was always evident, said Mr So.

"He was always into flying and he put so much time and effort into it and he was always the first person there and the last person out when he studied. He was really dedicated to his flying."

Mr Lau had clocked up nearly 7,000 flying hours, according to Taiwanese reports.