Boeing whistleblower found dead in apparent suicide as safety concerns rise

With Boeing under the microscope, a “tragic” end befell a whistleblower ahead of further questioning in a long-running lawsuit over safety concerns.

Concerns with the famed aerospace company have only continued to mount after another incident left dozens of people injured Monday during a LATAM Airlines flight to New Zealand. The same day, the BBC confirmed with the Charleston County Coroner’s office that 62-year-old John Barnett, a retired employee in the midst of a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit with Boeing, had died of an “alleged” self-inflicted gun shot wound.

After having worked for the company for 32 years until a 2017 retirement, Barnett had first voiced safety concerns in 2019 and contended that overworked employees were fitting substandard parts onto aircraft at the North Charleston, South Carolina plant.

His attorneys detailed that the whistleblower was in town to discuss the ongoing lawsuit with Boeing attorneys, he had given a formal deposition already and was scheduled for further questioning on Saturday. When Barnett didn’t show up, inquiries as to his whereabouts led to the discovery of his body in the parking lot of the hotel where he was staying.

Brian Knowles, one of the attorneys representing the whistleblower, had expressed doubts about the circumstances of his client’s “tragic” death and notably referred to the determination from the coroner as an “alleged” self-inflicted wound.

Regarding his specific legal challenges with Boeing, part of the former employee’s concerns included faults with the oxygen systems that, in the case of an emergency, meant up to one in four oxygen masks might not work properly on the 787.

A follow-up report found that over 50 “non-conforming” parts were untraceable in the company’s system.

“This is not a 737 problem — it’s a Boeing problem,” he told TMZ in January in reaction to reports of a door plug blowing off a 737 MAX 9 after takeoff. “I know the FAA is going in and done due diligence and inspections to ensure that the door close on the 737 are installed properly and the fasteners are stored properly.”

“But, my concern is, what’s the rest of the airplane — what’s the rest of the condition of the airplane?” he asked.

 

“Back in 2012, Boeing started removing inspection operations from their jobs. So, it left the mechanics to buy off their own work,” continued Barnett to TMZ. “What we’re seeing with the door plug blowout is what I’ve seen with the rest of the airplane, as far as jobs not being completed properly, inspection steps being removed, issues being ignored…”

“My concerns are with the 737 and 787 because those programs have really embraced the theory that quality is overhead and non-value added,” the former employee asserted.

As reported, the Justice Department had recently opened a criminal investigation after the door plug incident and The Wall Street Journal had detailed, “The probe would inform the Justice Department’s review of whether Boeing complied with an earlier settlement that resolved a federal investigation following two fatal 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019.”

Those crashes in the Java Sea and Ethiopia resulted in the deaths of 346 people and cost Boeing $2.5 billion after a settlement had been reached with the DOJ.

That probe preceded a Monday incident aboard a LATAM Airlines flight that sent 10 passengers and three crew members to the hospital after they said “a technical event during the flight…caused a strong movement.”

One passenger had told ABC News “The plane, unannounced, just dropped. I mean it dropped unlike anything I’ve ever experienced on any kind of minor turbulence, and people were thrown out of their seats, hit the top of the roof of the plane, thrown down the aisles.”

“Some of the roof panels were broken from people being thrown up and knocking through the plastic roof panels in the aisle ways,” Brian Jokat continued. “And there was blood coming from several people’s heads.”

Regarding Barnett’s death, Boeing told BBC in a statement, “We are saddened by Mr. Barnett’s passing, and our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

Kevin Haggerty

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