Officials said 39-year-old Luis Javier Martinez died Tuesday when he was covered by earth while working in a trench at Main Campus and Achievement drives on NC State's Centennial Campus.
Firefighters had to use heavy rescue equipment along with massive vacuum trucks to suck up loose dirt that covered the man's body.
Officials said a stabilization wall, called a trench box, was in place for safety, but somehow an earthen wall still gave way.
Raleigh Fire Chief Kendall Hocutt said the mission quickly went from rescue to recovery.
"The captain, he made an assessment of the situation and determined that an initial rescue wasn't possible," said Hocutt. "At that time, a decision was made this would be a recovery operation."
Finally, after more than two-and-a-half hours, workers found the victim and brought his body to a waiting ambulance.
Multiple investigations are underway by organizations such as OSHA, the Labor Department and N.C. State.
Authorities identified the construction company involved as JF Wilkerson Contracting, which is based in Morrisville. The company employs about 30 people and specializes in laying water and sewage lines.