A police officer who headed the inquiry into an air crash in which eight people died, yesterday told how he saw the bodies of the victims in the wreckage.

Detective Superintendent Graham Vance, of Strathclyde Police CID, said he was called to the scene of the accident at Linwood, near Paisley, within an hour of the plane coming down.

Five Airtours stewardesses were among those killed when the staff flight crashed shortly after taking off from Glasgow airport in September 1999.

Mr Vance told the fatal accident inquiry at Paisley Sheriff Court that he first learned of the accident around 15 minutes after it happened.

He said he had to drive to a farmyard and a dirt track to reach the scene near Blackstone Farm, to reach the wreckage.

Asked if he was able to see anyone in the plane, he replied: ''I was able to see their heads.

''The impression I formed when I saw the heads was that they were pushed forwards in the aircraft. The rearmost body that I saw was raised slightly and the rest were pushed forward.''

Mr Vance said about 100 officers were involved in investigating the crash, in which three people survived.

The stewardesses who died were Pauline MacIver, 31, from New Stevenston, Lanarkshire, Pauline Moyes, 38, from Renton, West Dunbartonshire, Linda

Taylor, 29, from Troon, Ayrshire, Helen Steven, 28, from Helensburgh, and Lynn McCulloch, from Kirkintilloch, near Glasgow.

Captain John Easson, 49, from Bride, Isle of Man, and his co-pilot, Bill Henderson, 54, of Lower Largo, Fife, also died, as did Airtours pilot Colin Finnie, from Irvine, Ayrshire.

The inquiry later heard evidence from Derek Slimmon, who was working as an operations officer for Exec Air at Glasgow airport at the time.

Mr Slimmon, from Erskine, said he fuelled the aircraft the evening before it crashed, when he was told by Captain Easson not to fill it to capacity as members of staff on the flight to Aberdeen would be carrying some heavy items of luggage.

He said: ''Mr Easson would come up and state how much fuel he would like. In this case he said that the air crew girls and men were taking more stuff with them and to decrease fuel levels.''

Mr Slimmon also told the inquiry he noticed the aircraft appeared to be tilting to one side, with the right wing lower.

''It was more difficult to fuel the craft and I had to climb a lot higher on the stepladder,'' he said.

Mr Slimmon said he mentioned the fact to police later on because it was ''always at the back of my mind''.

Captain Easson told ground staff the aircraft would take off on September 3, four days after it last landed at the airport, and take the Airtours staff up to Aberdeen.

The inquiry was shown video footage from an RAF helicopter taken two days after the crash, which showed gouge marks in the ground near the field where the aircraft came to rest.

Photographs showed a gap in the hedge the plane crashed through and pieces of wreckage strewn over the fields.

Robin Laird, 42, an Exec Air flight supervisor, said the Cessna 404 was often used to transport Airtours staff from Glasgow to other airports.

Captain Easson was one of several pilots who would fly the plane on such occasions and a second pilot would always be on board, Mr Laird said.

He said Captain Easson owned Edinburgh Air Charter Limited, which operated the aircraft, until about five years ago when he sold it on.

Under cross examination, Mr Slimmon said he was ''sure'' he had spoken to Captain Easson in person on September 2, the day before the crash, despite hearing evidence that the captain was in the Isle of Man that day.

Fellow Exec Air worker Alan Johnstone, 65, of Knightswood in Glasgow, said that it was quite common for aircraft to tilt a little when standing.

''I did not see anything unusual with this aircraft that day. It's usual to see planes sit at an angle and when they do this does not necessarily mean something is wrong,'' he told the hearing.

Laurence Mone, 40, of Cardonald, an Exec Air flight supervisor, said Captain Easson was a ''meticulous captain who always carried out checks and had particular ways of doing things like loading his aircraft.''

Mr Mone said that on the day of the crash, Exec Air had asked him to carry a couple of additional items to the firm's Aberdeen office, a slab containing 15, 1kg bags of sugar and a small box of A4 paper. But he did not think the Airtours staff were carrying excess luggage.

''I handled their baggage when I picked them up to take them to the plane and there was nothing different or unusual that day,'' he said.

Peter Hanson, of Coatbridge in Lanarkshire, later told the inquiry how he saw a plane that resembled the Cessna 404 pass him on the runway at Glasgow airport shortly before the crash.

The electronics engineer at the airport, said: ''My attention was drawn to an aircraft passing about 15 feet in front of me.

''It was going from my right to left on the runway and the engines just did not sound right.''

Mr Hanson said aircraft normally only made such a noise when they decelerated but said this plane ''sounded rough'' before it had started to accelerate. He went on: ''It sounded like one engine, on the left side, was having problems.''

The inquiry before Sheriff principal Bruce Kerr continues today.