Boeing Whistleblower Found Dead

John Barnett, a former Boeing employee of 32 years, was found dead in his truck outside a South Carolina hotel on Saturday. The 62-year-old had been involved in a whistleblower lawsuit against the aerospace giant, alleging that the company had retaliated against him for highlighting potential safety issues at its factories. Barnett, who had served as a quality manager on the 787 Dreamliner project at Boeing’s North Charleston factory before retiring in 2017, was due to continue his pretrial deposition last week but failed to appear.

The Charleston County Coroner confirmed to the BBC that Barnett’s death was the result of a self-inflicted wound, and an investigation by local police is underway. Barnett’s attorney, Brian Knowles, expressed his shock and sadness at the news, stating that his client had been preparing for the third day of his deposition in Charleston.

According to Knowles, Barnett had been examined by the defense for seven hours on Thursday, and cross-examined all day Friday. The deposition was set to continue at 10 a.m. on Saturday, but when co-counsel Rob Turkewitz tried to reach Barnett, his calls went straight to voicemail. After several unsuccessful attempts to contact him, the hotel was asked to check on Barnett, leading to the discovery of his body in his truck.

Barnett’s lawsuit alleged that Boeing workers were using substandard parts on the 787 aircraft and that company leadership was ignoring malfunctions to cut costs. In a 2019 interview with the BBC, Barnett claimed that up to a quarter of oxygen systems on the 787 Dreamliner could be faulty and fail when needed. He also alleged that defective parts were knowingly installed on planes at a Boeing factory, and in at least one case, parts were sourced from scrap bins.

Barnett, who saw his role as a quality manager as the last line of defense against defects reaching the public, told the New York Times in 2019 that he wouldn’t vouch for the safety and airworthiness of any plane coming out of the Charleston factory. Despite Boeing’s denial of these allegations, a 2017 review by the Federal Aviation Administration reportedly substantiated some of Barnett’s concerns.

In recent years, Barnett remained a vocal critic of Boeing, particularly as various malfunctions and production issues came to light. When asked about an incident in January where the door plug of a commercial Boeing 737 Max 9 came off during ascent, Barnett told TMZ that the problem was not specific to the 737, but was a broader Boeing issue.

Boeing expressed its condolences in a statement, saying, “We are saddened by Mr. Barnett’s passing, and our thoughts are with his family and friends.”