Days of frantic rescue efforts abruptly gave way to tragedy on Wednesday as two missing miners were found dead six days after they were lost in a collapsed mine shaft, a rescue worker said.
"We have found both of them. They are dead, and we need another 10 men to get them out," said Giorgy Ramirez, a member of the rescue team at the Casa Negra mine some 250 miles (400 kilometers) from Ecuador's capital Quito.
"We got up there and we found them; one up against a wall but without his clothes, and the other, you can't see well because there are boards and beams all over the place, and he is up against a wall on the opposite end."
The miners, four in all, went missing on Friday, two days after Chile completed its historic, successful rescue of 33 miners stuck underground in the San Jose mine for a record 69 days.
Of the group of four miners who were trapped in the collapse, two were found dead last week. They were identified as Walter Vera, the 31-year-old team leader, and Peruvian miner Paul Aguirre.
And now rescuers and mine officials set about recovering the bodies of the last two men - Vera's brother Angel, 29, a machine operator, and worker Pedro Mendoza, 28.
Just hours before the last two bodies were found, rescuers had punched into a shelter where they found lamps and a workman's boot, but no miners, officials said.
Then a sudden rush of debris down a mine chute briefly blocked passage to the area where the men were believed to be some 150 meters (500 feet) below ground, a mining company official said.
President Rafael Correa traveled to the scene at midday, prior to the second cave-in, to console relatives of the trapped miners amid what officials had taken as hopeful signs.
Yet by late Wednesday what had been a hopeful mood was crushed by the hardest of facts.
Rescuers said on Tuesday they believed the men were in a space with enough oxygen to sustain them for about four to five days.