A father, whose son and his young friend were buried alive in north Queensland on Monday night, tried to dig both children out with his bare hands and made a frantic call for help when he uncovered an arm.

''Quick the boys are buried, get help, get help, get here as fast as you can,'' Michael Sartori told his wife after discovering a mound of dirt where the cubby of his 12-year-old son Jack Sartori and his 14-year-old friend Liam Emerson used to be.

Jack and Liam had been spending their school holiday building the cubby at the entrance of a drain on council land in Clement Street in Ayr.

They had tunnelled into the dirt drain and, as they were playing in it on Monday, it collapsed.

The boys were unconscious when firefighters dug them out just after 7pm and although paramedics performed CPR at the scene the pair died in Ayr Hospital.

Jack's grandmother, Ann Tipping, had been staying with her daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren including Jack, who she referred to as ''my Jackie boy''.

Mr Sartori had arrived home from the farm before dark and Jack still had not come in for dinner.

Ms Tipping said: ''My daughter said the boys aren't home yet, will you go down to the cubby house and rouse them up and get them home?

''He got there and then called home and said 'Quick, the boys are buried, get help, get help, get here as fast as you can' and the other mum and I got around there and he was down trying to dig them out.

''He knew they were down there because when he went down to find them he could see their two bikes and their thongs and their water bottles. Then he realised the most horrible thought, that they might be in there and when he started to pull the dirt away he found an arm and he knew then.''

Ms Tipping said the Emerson and Sartori families, who both lived in Lawrence Crescent around the corner from the accident, had been left devastated.

She described Jack as ''boy's boy'' who was protective of his eight-year-old brother and six-year-old sister.

''He was just one gorgeous little boy, he was a special boy,'' she said.

''He was always happy-go-lucky, cheerful, he had lots of mates. He was a real boy's boy.''

Mr Sartori was a cane farmer and instilled in his eldest son a love of the outdoors, with Jack spending his spare time fishing and riding tractors.

A friend of the Emerson family said they did not feel ''up to'' talking to the media.

Burdekin mayor Bill Lowis released a statement saying the community had been left reeling after the deaths of the two boys.

''This is a tragic loss of young lives and follows the recent loss of another young family in a vehicle accident near Mackay,'' he said.

''This sort of tragedy impacts not just on the family, but on the wider community.''

Cr Lowis confirmed the land where the boys had been playing was council land and a resident who lived in the street where the accident happened, Gail Cecil, said the block had been cleaned up a few months ago and had been fenced in.

Ms Cecil said the boys had loved playing outdoors.

''That is why we live out here where we live, we're right on the edge of town and the kids had the freedom to do what they wanted,'' she said.

''You like to see the kids playing outside … it's just a tragic accident and no one is to blame for it.''