Some 123 passengers and crew members exited El Al Flight 347 to Zurich on inflatable slides yesterday, in an emergency evacuation that was ordered after smoke and a pungent smell filled the cabin shortly before take-off at Ben-Gurion International Airport.

The Transportation Ministry has established a special committee, headed by chief air accident investigator Yitzhak Raz, to investigated the circumstances surrounding the incident.

El Al's vice president of operations, Lior Yavor, told Haaretz that, according to an initial inquiry, the smell was caused by the remnants of substances used to clean the compressors in the Boeing 737's engines over the weekend.

Yavor said an investigation will be conducted into whether the cleaning process was carried out properly, and he promised steps would be taken against those found responsible for the incident.

El Al leased a Boeing 757 from Arkia in order to fly the passengers to Zurich some three hours after the incident.

Those passengers who needed to make connecting flights were placed on earlier EL Al flights to Geneva and Frankfurt.

'Stopped with a jolt'

Yossi Harmoni, a passenger on the flight, described the scene inside the cabin: "Everyone knows the feeling of speeding down the runway just before taking off. This time, during the acceleration, we suddenly felt the plane stopping."

As it stopped, he continued, "we began to notice a smell and smoke. The smoke wasn't very thick, like a room in which people are smoking, but the smell was strong. The plane stopped with a jolt. The doors opened quickly, within seconds. Unfortunately, there were passengers who tried to gather their things, which delayed the evacuation."

Rescue service vehicles - fire trucks and ambulances - quickly arrived on the scene, Harmoni added.