The Pike River re-entry team has successfully reached the roof fall of the mine, ending any hope families had of recovering any remains.
Wednesday's milestone marks the furthest distance the re-entry team will recover inside the mine, where 29 men were killed in 2010.
Anna Osbourne, who lost her husband Milton in the disaster, said it was hard to know he's still in the mine.
"I'm incredibly proud that we have got this far and so thankful that the people of New Zealand have backed us getting this done and gathering the evidence that is crucial to getting justice for our boys.
"I think every family member will be feeling that same mixture of pride and sadness."
"Let's face it, we didn’t get what we want in our hearts - to get our boys back - but we knew that wasn't likely when we started," added Rowdy Durbridge, who previously worked in the mine and whose son Dan died in the explosion.
"The next best thing for me is getting some justice for Dan and the fellas down there and I think they'd be proud that we've got to that."
It comes after the re-entry team reached the Roscil plug area, near the end of the drift, in December.
"The boys and I feel pretty good to have now got as far as we can in the drift," Pike River Recovery Agency chief operating officer Dinghy Pattinson said.
"That job has been done, and it has been done safely."
Pattinson said the team finished its final forensic work in front of the roof fall at about 11:30am on Wednesday.
"We left a letter pinned to the Rocsil plug addressed to the Pike 29," Pattinson said. "We promised that work would continue on finding out what happened on November 19, 2010. And we said goodbye."
He said their focus would now turn to the pit bottom and stone area of the mine.
Recovery Agency chief executive Dave Gawn said the milestone culminated from years of planning and execution.
"We still have a job to finish but we are thrilled to have recovered to the roof fall safely, as we were mandated to do."