Rescuers in the northeastern province of Cao Bang on Sunday called off the search for the bodies of four gold prospectors and a militiaman who are believed to have suffocated in a cave five days earlier.
On Dec. 27, 2011, a group of seven prospectors began exploring a deep cave in a rural village with the hope of finding gold.
Trieu Chong Vang, one of the three survivors, said he and six men discussed exploring Cot Khan Cave after hearing rumors that there was gold in there.
Four of the men fell into the cave while they were operating a water pumping machine at the cave's mouth to pan gold, he said.
The men included Trieu Chong Hin, 39, his brother Trieu Ton Pham and his 21-year-old son Trieu Van Chieu, and Dang Van Tinh of Nguyen Binh District.
Police suspect the men suffocated and died in the cave.
One day later, Trieu Van Dung, a local militiaman, met the same fate while making his way into the cave to rescue the victims.
Rescuers using toxin detectors and masks pumped oxygen into the narrow cave in an effort to get into the cave, local authorities said.
However, they had to stop the search after five days because of the high levels of toxic substances in the air.
On Sunday, the Nguyen Binh District People's Committee gave the families of the dead ex gratia payments of VND5 million (US$237) each.
The Committee said Dung will be recognized as martyr, in accordance with state regulations, because he died during a rescue operation.