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Out of the blue, when I plugged in one of my external drives, I could only see a part of the contents in File Explorer; after trying to open the volume again a few times, I rebooted and was greeted by the volume not being recognized anymore (trying to open it would trigger an error saying the volume was corrupted and unreadable). Upon opening disk management, I found to my dismay that the partition was detected as RAW instead of NTFS.

I then attempted a chkdsk /f on the affected volume: the program reported finding a number of issues and reported fixing the volume's Master File Table; this did give me back an accessible NTFS volume, but with most of the contents missing.

I am now running a second chkdsk (/r instead of /f this time). Do I have a chance of getting my data back?

Also, how could this possibly happen? I have always unmounted the volume before unplugging, the disk had been working fine the last time I used it and had been disconnected from power or data cables since then.

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If you have a serious problem it is preferable to not chkdsk the drive. When you thought it might have been pulled wrong, it would be natural to chkdsk it, but once things start going badly, you should stop and image the drive first.
You would avoid writing to the drive in any way. When chkdsk does not know what is going on it can make corrections that make it worse.

It sounds most like the internal drive itself has failed (or is failing). Many external boxes the drive can be extracted and connected "different" like direct to a sata port.

It Is also possible with both USB powered externals and seperate powered externals that you have a power problem.

If that happened to me I would first Leave it alone for a day, make sure it is in a Dry location. I would then try and test the power any way that I could. I might attempt again after that day to test it, and see if it was totally dead or not. I would extract it form the case if I could, test again the power if possible. Then try and connect it up internally to a computer, or externally using a different controller and power supply.

How could it happen? it could happen a bunch of ways, it could have been smacked around, it could have got moisture in it. Moving a disk from a hot humid location to a cold location it could build up tiny bits of moisture on the platters. The power supply could be failing, a Surge of power could have occured. Any number of things.

There are "pro" $$$ ways to get data back as long as the platters have data on them.

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Sigh, looks like I may be hosed then. The second chkdsk did not find any more files... The HDD is an internal WD Green 2TB, I have an external USB3 enclosure I use to connect it to the PC. The drive has been sitting next to the PC on my desk for a number of months now, without having been moved - so I'd rule moisture or sudden temperature change out. I also haven't smacked it around, of course. – Alberto Sep 23 '13 at 17:29

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