Boeing whistleblower who exposed company production concerns found dead in US

A Boeing whistleblower who raised issues about the company’s production standards has been found dead in South Carolina, US.

John Barnett, 62, worked for Boeing for 32 years before retiring in 2017 due to health reasons. He was found dead in his truck in a hotel car park, the Charleston County coroner told BBC News on Monday.

According to the Charleston County coroner, Barnett died from a ‘self-inflicted’ wound on March 9 and police were investigating the incident, BBC News reports.

Barnett’s death comes at a time when the production standards of Boeing and its major supplier Spirit AeroSystems are under intense scrutiny.

It comes days after the US Justice Department launched a criminal investigation into an incident in which an emergency door panel on an Alaska Airlines flight flew into the air in January. The explosion aboard an Alaska Airlines flight was a Boeing 737 Max.

Before his death, Barnett was testifying about Boeing’s production standards in a whistleblower lawsuit against the company.

He worked since 2010 as a quality manager at the North Charleston plant, which was building the 787 Dreamliner, an airliner primarily used on long-haul routes.

In 2019, Barnett told the BBC that employees, who were under pressure to meet deadlines, were deliberately putting substandard parts into Boeing aircraft on the production line.

He also said that substandard parts were removed from the scrap bin and fitted into planes to meet production line deadlines.

The former Boeing employee alleged that tests of emergency oxygen systems for the 787 Dreamliner had a failure rate of 25 percent, meaning one in four oxygen masks would not work in a real-time emergency, the BBC reports.

Barnett said he expressed his concerns to managers, but no action was taken.

While Boeing rejected his claims, the US regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), upheld some of the concerns flagged by Barnett.

The FAA stated that the location of at least 53 “non-conforming” parts at the factory was unknown and, therefore, they were considered lost. According to the BBC, it asked Boeing to take remedial action.

On the issue of oxygen cylinders, Boeing said it had “identified certain oxygen bottles received from the supplier that were not deploying properly” in 2017. However, the company denied that these were installed in the aircraft.

Last week, Barnett was questioned by Boeing lawyers during a deposition, before he was cross-examined by his own attorney. He was to appear for questioning on March 9 (Saturday). When he did not turn up, he was interrogated at his hotel. Eventually, he was found dead in his truck.

Barnett’s lawyer described his death as “tragic”.

Boeing also expressed its condolences, saying, “We are saddened by the passing of Mr. Barnett and our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

published by:

Pratik Chakraborty

Published on:

March 12, 2024