A UK programmer has been desperately trying for eight years to recover his old hard drive containing a password to a digital wallet. He is now in talks with a company that helped NASA recover data from an exploded space shuttle.
James Howells from South Wales mined bitcoins at the time when it cost almost nothing and the cryptocurrency was known only in narrow tech circles. He managed to accumulate some 7,500 bitcoins – now worth more than $350 million.
A special cryptographic private key for getting access to bitcoins was kept on a hard drive, which was accidentally thrown into the Docksway landfill site near Newport, Wales, in 2013. The man thought the device from his old computer contained nothing but rubbish.
Having realized the mistake that cost him a fortune, he has tried to dig through the rubbish tip, but to no avail. Estimating that his hard drive is somewhere in a 200 meter squared area, at the depth of up to 15 meters under all the trash, he even offered the local council in charge of the site a quarter of any fortune found. Howells also created a bitcoin recovery fund, looking for any assistance in his dirty treasure hunt.
A data recovery firm that has been previously hired by NASA is now eager to help Howells, British media reports. Ontrack, the company from Minneapolis, managed to recover the hard drive from the crashed Columbia space shuttle in 2003, despite the device being found months after the accident.
“They were able to recover from a shuttle that exploded and they don’t seem to think that being at a landfill will be a problem,” Howells told The Sun this week.
However, the man still has no official permission to dig up the landfill, as the council fears the costly excavation will have no result, but might “have a huge environmental impact on the surrounding area.”
According to various empirical analysis of the blockchain where all bitcoin transactions are recorded, hoarded bitcoins worth billions of dollars have been lost forever over the years. In 2018, blockchain analysis company Chainalysis estimated that passwords to cryptocurrency wallets containing between 2.78 million and 3.79 million bitcoins will never be recovered.