Rescuers worked for more than 32 hours to safely access the area after a vertical pipe broke from a wall and struck a cage similar to an elevator lowering the two men into the shaft early Thursday, said Barrick Gold of North America spokesman Lou Schack. The pipe runs the length of the Meikle mine shaft, about 1,300 feet below the surface.
"This is a tragic event and we remain focused on assisting these miners' families," said Greg Lang, president of Barrick's North America Region.
It will take from three weeks to two months to identify the remains, said Elko County Sheriff Dale Lotspeich, who also is county coroner.
"From an official standpoint, I can't confirm it's the remains of the two missing miners," the sheriff said. "But realistically, yes, it is. The remains were found in the area where the accident occurred and so we're probably looking at that."
Five earlier fatalities had occurred at the mine, which opened in 1994 about 55 miles northwest of Elko and 275 miles northeast of Reno. There have been 26 mining deaths over the last decade in Nevada, the world's fourth largest gold producer behind South Africa, Australia and China.
The Meikle mine, about 55 miles northwest of Elko and 275 miles northeast of Reno, is operated by its subsidiary Barrick Goldstrike Mines. The mine has about 300 workers, and its underground operations have been shut down since the accident.
The pipe that broke Thursday is about 2 feet in diameter and is used to carry crushed stone and rocks.
The accident severely damaged the cage carrying the miners and shook loose considerable debris, Lotspeich said. Searchers expect to find more remains as they have only sifted through about 10 percent of the debris at the bottom of the shaft. They hope to wrap up the work Sunday, he said.
Neither authorities nor Barrick have released the names of the men. Family members of the miners were notified shortly after the accident.
"These types of mining jobs have an inherent risk involved, but nobody is prepared when something major happens and this type of thing occurs," the sheriff said. "We're trying to bring closure not only to the families but to the mining community."
Toronto-based Barrick, the largest gold company in the world, owns several mines in Nevada.
The men were being lowered in the cage to inspect the pipe when the accident occurred, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.