SATURDAYS singer Una Healy has paid an emotional tribute to "lovely young man" Niall Doherty, the flying instructor who lost his life in a plane crash with trainee pilot Damien Deegan.
The pop star grew up alongside Mr Doherty in Co Tipperary and it is understood the pair dated when they were youngsters.
Ms Healy is coming to terms with the shock of losing Mr Doherty in the devastating crash which happened when a light aircraft came down in scrubland near Birr airfield in Co Offaly.
The singer, who is now married to England rugby player Ben Foden, said: "I'm shocked and so saddened to hear the tragic news about Niall Doherty.
"He was a lovely young man who I have nothing but fond memories of. My thoughts and best wishes are with his family and friends at this very difficult time."
Mr Doherty's mother Eileen paid tribute to the "best son anybody could ever wish for".
She and her husband Michael described their son, who was 31, as a hard worker at the family's hardware shop in Roscrea town, who looked after all the forward planning for the business.
"He was loving, caring and helpful all the time," his mother said.
Mr Doherty was from Ballinakill, Roscrea, Co Tipperary, and advanced learner Mr Deegan (31) from Crinkle, Birr, Co Offaly.
It is understood that mechanical failure is being investigated as a possible cause for Sunday's crash, with investigators to probe if the men may have been alerted to a problem by warning lights in the cockpit shortly after taking off. Mr Doherty was highly experienced and was well on his way to fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a commercial pilot.
Mr Deegan was also a keen and experienced flyer, understood to be planning to get a commercial licence.
He worked as a team leader at Tesco in Birr where shocked co-workers spoke of him as having "a heart of gold".
The men's Cessna 150H aircraft landed upside down in an overgrown field, and two separate investigations are now under way by gardai and the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU).
It is understood the plane took off from Birr Airfield and was headed south when it began to experience difficulties. Air traffic control at Shannon raised the alarm when it disappeared from radar screens shortly before 5pm on Sunday.
The men's bodies were removed from the scene late on Sunday night, and the mangled wreckage was taken away yesterday afternoon.
AAIU head Jurgen Whyte said: "We're relying on witness and a detailed examination. It's quite an elderly aircraft but that's not unusual.
"They can fly for 40 or 50 years and may have been re-engined."