The future of the New Zealand colliery where 29 men died last month remains unclear, as the mine operators said there was no immediate hope of recovering the bodies and they would soon lay off staff.
The police who had been overseeing the recovery operation also announced they were pulling out and handing responsibility back to the Pike River Coal company.
The 29 men were killed three weeks ago after a gas explosion ripped through the two-year-old mine in a remote area on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island.
Relatives’ hopes that some miners might have survived were shattered when more powerful explosions erupted in the gas-filled mine days later.
Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall said it remained the company’s intention to get into the volatile mine, but police said there were “significant hurdles to overcome” to make the mine safe.
“The company will do all it can, right down to the last dollar, to reopen the mine and recover our men,” Mr Whittall said.
However the gag unit – a jet engine device working to clear the mine of volatile gases – was still trying to extinguish the underground blaze.
Police commissioner Howard Broad says the unit had made the mine more stable but “entry to the mine is not likely in the medium term”.
Mr Broad says the primary police interest is the recovery of the bodies “should this ever be possible”.