Police Commissioner Howard Broad has announced police are all but giving up hope of recovering the remains of the 29 lost Pike River miners.
At a press conference this evening, Mr Broad said: "Frankly, my confidence in terms of a recovery operation to bring the men out is quite low."
The 29 workers remain in the underground West Coast coal mine after a series of explosions since November.
Mr Broad said he had received advice from mines rescue personnel on both sides of the Tasman.
"The assessment is that the likelihood of getting into the mine safely is unrealistic because it is too unsafe.
"Based on all of this advice, it would be quite wrong for the police to hold out great hope that the men will be recovered from the mine and I have decided that the recovery phase of this operation will come to a conclusion.
"The means of concluding this operation is by handing the mine back to the receiver who controls Pike River coal mine."
Mr Broad said he had informed the receiver of his decision today.
"In my view, it is time to focus on the living and to respect and memorialise those who died," he said.
Mr Broad and Department of Conservation director-general Al Morrison had just come out of a meeting with the families at Greymouth's Holy Trinity Church.
"We are disappointed we are not in a different state than we are today,"
But the victim's families are not giving up hope.
Bernie Monk, whose son Michael died at Pike River and who is spokesman for the families of the 28 other victims, told nzherald.co.nz after the meeting that the families had been told police had gone to the company receivers to ask what they would contribute to the cost of the recovery efforts.
"All they are saying is, to the receivers, what are you going to do to help us? Because they [the receivers] are just sitting back and letting our Government do all the work for them."
Mr Monk says if the receivers could not contribute towards the recovery efforts, he was hopeful the Government could come up with a fresh plan.
But the families were realistic that it may come to the point of having to seal the mine. "In our hearts, we hope that doesn't happen but let's pray to God we can face all options before that actually happens," said Mr Monk.
Another relative emerged from the meeting with police and said: "It's all bad news. Very premature."
Mr Broad said: "I hesitate to use the word sealing.
"Getting it to a stable situation leaves the receivers with a number of questions as to what to do.
"We've had a situation where the mine has exploded, not once, but four times... and the mine is by itself a dangerous place.
"You can anticipate a situation where it is not a risk to anyone - the conditions in the mine are stable - and then time can be taken to decide what to do.
"There is also a situation of sealing the mine, that can be as little as simply putting a fence around it and walking away.
"We are not in the second of these situations. We are anticipatng the first and there is one scenario that is the second."