Police have revealed they came within metres of recovering the body of White Island tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman.
The search for his body, and that of an Australian teenager who's also still missing after last week's deadly eruption, is now being scaled back.
"We haven't given up, says Deputy Police Commissioner Mike Clement.
"I don't want to make this sound like it's all over - the reality is we have to wait for Mother Nature to produce those bodies."
The return of Marshall-Inman and Australian teenager Winona Langford is now in the hands of the sea.
"It hurts us, and it hurts our people and it hurts everybody in this community," says Clement.
Both bodies were left near a ravine, which was searched by foot three days ago
Police believe they were washed out to sea in a mudslide the night of the eruption.
Langford hasn't been seen since, but divers came painfully close to Marshall-Inman last Tuesday.
"They got very close to the body, I mean within meters," says Clement, but the boat could not get close enough to recover the body.
Out of continued respect for the two still missing, Whakaari is out of bounds and a rahui - a spiritual ban - remains in place within the Ngāti Awa tribal boundary. The iwi will lift part of it on Friday to allow swimmers and kayakers back in the waters, but the ban on gathering seafood will continue until further notice
That leaves fishing charter boats sitting idle at the busiest time of the year.
"Business has been pretty challenging," says Mick Brown, owner of Club Talk Charters. "We've had to reschedule a lot of our business, it's been pretty hard on everyone."
That's likely to be felt by many businesses in the region this summer, but Whakatane Mayor Judy Turner says a portion of the Government's $5 million grant will help.
"How do we help businesses that may have to put staff off unless something improves?" says Turner. "Those are the types of issues that will need to be considered."
And this already grieving close-knit community is facing more tragedy with news that
Whakatane emergency nurse, Sheila Cheng, who helped treat the injured from White Island, was killed in a car crash on Saturday.
Family friend Amanda Lorin said she dropped everything the day of the eruption to help.
"Nothing mattered to her except helping the people, she wasn't fazed by anything, by seeing the victims how badly burnt they were," says Lorin.
Cheng's death is a cruel blow to a small community still struggling with a tragedy of international scale right on its doorstep.