For all the times you inadvertently threw a valuable in the trash, James Howell feels your anguish multiplied by half a billion. This is the approximate amount of money he accidentally threw away when he got rid of a hard drive containing 7,500 bitcoins.
Famous in spite of himself
James Howell is a name that will strike the minds of anyone familiar with bitcoin, and for this disturbing reason. While cleaning his workplace in 2013, this computer expert from Newport, Wales, tossed a hard drive into a bin bag, which his wife then took to the bin. Before falling asleep that night in August 2013, Howell considered removing the disc, but he never had the chance since his wife woke up first.
The disk contained 7,500 bitcoins, at a time when the value of the cryptocurrency was not as high as it is now. Howell had forgotten the gadget units after spilling lemonade on them. A few days later, he remembered it. Bitcoin was worth thousands of dollars at the time; today, those same 7,500 units would be worth $450 million.
An excavation of 8 years to find his treasure
Since 2013, Howell has been advocating with Newport City Council for permission to dig and survey the local landfill in search of the road. His request was repeatedly denied on various grounds, the most important being that the procedure would cost millions and he would be unable to pay for it if the road was not discovered or no longer functional.
Howell has now requested the help of a “NASA specialist” in a new effort to find the gadget. According to North Wales Live, that expert is Ontrack, the same data recovery company that recovered the burnt-out hard drive from the Space Shuttle Columbia when it crashed to Earth in 2003. Ontrack “believes there’s a 80-90% chance of recovering James’ massive bitcoin fortune – if the hard drive isn’t shattered.”
Additionally, Howell claims to have discovered the approximate location of the road in the landfill: a 200 square meter (2,153 square foot) space 15 meters (49 feet) below the garbage. The recovery effort could take another nine to 12 months, provided the city council grants permission to dig.
It’s an important “if”. In addition to the expected cost of the operation, there is also an environmental risk to consider. “The excavation is not permitted under our license permit, and the excavation would have a significant environmental impact on the immediate area,” Newport Council said in a statement. “As a result, we have made it very clear that we cannot support him on this.”