ALL five of them were confirmed dead, one by one, as a combined emergency rescue team battled to exhume the excavators who were buried alive on Sunday night in Lusaka's Ibex Hill area.

It must have been a painful gradual death from suffocation for the casual workers whose families back home waited in agony for their return.

Warren Mumba, Kangwa Mulonga, Author Phiri and Gift Chileshe are believed to have migrated from the Copperbelt in search of employment while Vincent Musenga is from Kalikiliki compound in Lusaka.

This was their first day of duty, according to witnesses but it was also their last alive.

Police are withholding the identity of the only witness, the driver of the earth-mover truck who witnessed the whole incident unfold, for security reasons, but we managed to speak to him.

"I am shocked. I can't believe what happened. We were just about to knockoff but we decided to lay the pipes before leaving. So while they were down there, all over a sudden, I saw this whole land fall over them," he said.

"I was traumatized. I didn't know whether to start digging them up or call for help, so I started removing the soil while screaming for help, but when people started arriving they instead harassed me, attempted to beat me up and threatened to burn the machine," said the witnessed who was fetched from hiding.

The incident happened between 17:30 and 18:00 hours and there was easy access to the scene along Mosi road, approximately two hundred meters from the American Embassy, but efforts to retrieve the men who were buried about 12 metres under earth came hours later.

The first emergency rescue team that arrived managed to get the traumatized driver him back on the job.

He remembered the exact spot where the victims were buried but to remove several tones of earth, over 10 meters thick within survival duration was simply impossible, especially in his taunted state, so he continued already aware of the fate of his colleagues.

And one by one the bodies were exhumed from deep underground as fainthearted sympathizers broke into tears as they watched the fruitless rescue efforts.

By midnight on Sunday, three bodies had been retrieved and more rescue teams joined the operation.

Zambia National Service, Emergency Rescue Team (ERT) Zambia Police, Disaster management Unit, Lusaka Water and Sewerage among other helpers worked together until the fourth body was exhumed around 02:00 hours yesterday morning.

By 13:00 hours in the afternoon, rescue teams were still searching for the remaining body of Gift Chileshe.

Lusaka District Commissioner Ashwel Kampengele, Disaster management and mitigations unit national coordinator Patrick Kangwa and Lusaka Water and Sewerage managing director George Ndongwe were all present when the rescue efforts were being made, but none of them had a factual statement about the ordeal.

"Our interest for now is to retrieve the bodies of the people who were buried and then we will institute investigations to determine who is behind this project. They should have involved all stake holders before embarking on such major works, but they didn't and as far as we are concerned, we knew nothing about this," said Ndongwe.

Acting police spokesperson Munganga Chanda named the contractor behind the sewer drainage as SBCC.

"SBCC sub contracted Ferryman Plant and Hire who is believed to have engaged the workers," she said.

Munganga confirmed that four of the five victims were believed to have come from Copperbelt and said Author Phiri's relatives had not yet been informed.