Police have delivered the heartbreaking news that two Canadian families did not want to hear - the search for Connor Hayes and Joanna Lam is now a recovery operation.
The announcement yesterday means that any hope of finding the young couple alive is gone, barring a miracle.
"If they survived the battering in the river, they would have been washed up on the banks as the river went down," West Coast area commander Inspector John Canning said.
However, search teams on the ground and in the air had detected no sign of life downstream from where the wreckage of their van was found in the Haast River on Tuesday, he said.
The operation would now focus on finding the couple's bodies so their families could have closure.
That may not be possible, however, because police believe there is a very real possibility that their bodies were washed out to sea.
Bad weather was expected to hamper search efforts in the area today. It is due to improve by Sunday.
Mr Hayes, 25, and Ms Lam, 24, were last seen at Fox Glacier last Tuesday. It appears that they drove east through Haast Pass in stormy conditions that forced other motorists to turn back.
Police believe the couple made it through the Diana Falls area of State Highway 6, where there was a major slip later that night, but "in all likelihood" were hit by another landslide further east. The alarm was only raised this week, when Ms Lam failed to turn up to start a new job at Nelson Hospital.
Family and friends said they had been "hoping and praying" but knew that the chances of the couple being found alive were slim - especially when pictures of the remains of their van wrapped around a boulder emerged.
"We just want some sort of closure to bring them home," Ms Lam's brother Jeffrey said yesterday.
"I miss her smile. I want her to come home for her birthday [next week] so that everybody can smile with her."
Their parents were struggling to come to grips with what had happened and were "really in pain", he said.
"They are not doing well . . . especially being so far away and not being able to control anything."
He thanked Search and Rescue crews.
Searchers have been focusing on the area downstream from the crash site and along the West Coast near the river mouth. A helicopter with specialist heat-seeking equipment and a search dog from Christchurch joined the search yesterday.
The NZ Transport Agency will review its procedures for closing roads in bad weather as a result of the accident.
The couple had been together for about two years and were living in Ottawa, Ontario. They arrived in New Zealand on September 2.
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