Pilot Chris Lau was a generous man who always went out of his way to help others.

It was the reason, his family says, that the dual citizen of New Zealand and Taiwan agreed to take on an extra shift to share the controls of TransAsia Airways Flight GE235.

That act of generosity claimed his life when the aircraft crashed into a river in Taipei 12 days ago.

Speaking for the first time, Mr Lau's family told the Weekend Herald from Taipei the plane the 45-year-old was flying developed engine trouble shortly after takeoff from Taipei.

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Dramatic footage of the disaster captured on dashboard cameras shows the plane turning on its side before hitting a bridge and plummeting into the river.

Fifteen on board survived but Mr Lau was one of 43 who died.

"We know Chris as being very, very humble. He's a very strong Christian man and very family-orientated," said his 22-year-old niece Christine Chiu on behalf of his family.

"If you ever needed someone he was always there ... he never says no to anyone and we know that if they needed him he would be the first to step in. He never says no to anyone and now we have to face his decision."

The family - including Mr Lau's wife, Yuki, his elderly mother, Fong Lin, and four older siblings Alfred, Helen, Barbara and Livinni, as well as seven nieces and nephews - have all flown to Taipei since his death.

"We are all doing the best we can under the circumstances because we do know that our uncle, he hates to see anyone upset so we are trying to be strong for him and keep our brave faces to face whatever comes to us."

Ms Chiu said the family would remember Mr Lau's sense of humour and his love for the outdoors, as well as the love of flying he instilled in his nephews.

One, Jackie Chiu, 20, said he wanted to become a pilot like his uncle. "He would always talk to us about planes and take us flying with him. He gave me his first stripes and he was just such an inspiration."

Mr Lau immigrated to New Zealand with his family in his teens. He attended Northcote College before beginning his pilot training at Ardmore Flying School and moving back to his native Taiwan, where he began working for TransAsia.

Ms Chiu said in 2011 he became a fully qualified captain.

She said the family were grateful for the support TransAsia Airways had given them, but were critical of how fast it took them to find out initially. "After the accident occurred one of the main complaints from other families as well was that they didn't notify the family straight away.

"Most of us found out from the news or through other people."

As investigations continue, there are reports that operational error may have contributed to the tragedy.

Ms Chiu said the family had full confidence that Mr Lau would have done all he could under the circumstances.