A mines auditor and rescuer from the UK says the recovery job at Pike River Mine is "half-finished" - and believes there's a 90 percent chance of securing vital evidence if teams go further.
This is despite Minister for Pike River Re-Entry Andrew Little saying that although he'll take advice on a new plan, he thinks "we've reached the end". He says he's done what was expected of him.
"We have delivered justice for the families," he says, adding that from the outset, it was only reserved as a possibility they would recover bodies.
But that possibility now appears highly unlikely, and the issue is money.
"There are always limits, and as I've told the families, there was never a blank cheque on this and I think we've reached the end," Little says.
But UK-based mines rescue expert Brian Robinson says getting into the drift has shown the mine is stable.
"It's shown what can be balanced as far as ventilation, roof control and safety, so that people can go in," he says. "It would be a half-finished job if it was given up now."
He believes key evidence lies just metres from where the team stopped working - down a tunnel to the right where the main ventilation fan is located.
"[There's] a 90 percent chance that good answers would be got."
Dave Gawn, Pike River Recovery Agency chief executive, agrees the fan area is important and going down further could be done.
"It is technically more challenging, but we've never said that it's not possible. The other elements with that is that it does change the risk profile," he says.
David Bell, a senior lecturer of engineering and mining geology at the University of Canterbury, says recoverers should complete the job before the mine is sealed forever.
"Given the experience that they have had so far, it can certainly be made safe or done safely," he says. "Now is the only time you've got to get in there and take it to at least the main fan."
A new plan estimates it'll cost $8 million to get to the fan. Recovering the drift has already cost $51 million.
"When you're in government, you've got to weigh up competing priorities. For me, my priority now is the living," Little says.
A huge blow to those still seeking answers and accountability for the men in the mine.