Boeing whistleblower John Barnett found dead

March 13, 2024

A former Boeing employee known for raising concerns about the firm’s aircraft production standards has been found dead, reports the BBC.

John Barnett had worked for Boeing for 32 years, until his retirement in 2017 for health reasons. In the days before his death, he had been giving evidence in a whistleblower lawsuit against the company. From 2010, he worked as a quality manager at the North Charleston, South Carolina, plant making the 787 Dreamliner, a state-of-the-art airliner used mainly on long-haul routes.

Boeing said it was saddened to hear of Barnett’s passing. The Charleston County Coroner’s Office confirmed his death to the BBC on Monday, March 11. It said the 62-year-old had died from a “self-inflicted” wound on Saturday, March 9, and police were investigating.

In 2019, Barnett told the BBC that under-pressure workers had been deliberately fitting sub-standard parts to aircraft on the production line. He also said he had uncovered serious problems with oxygen systems, which could mean one in four breathing masks would not work in an emergency.

He said soon after starting work in South Carolina he had become concerned that the push to get new aircraft built meant the assembly process was rushed and safety was compromised, something the company denied.

He later told the BBC that workers had failed to follow procedures intended to track components through the factory, allowing defective components to go missing. He said in some cases, sub-standard parts had even been removed from scrap bins and fitted to planes that were being built to prevent delays on the production line.

He also claimed that tests on emergency oxygen systems due to be fitted to the 787 showed a failure rate of 25%, meaning that one in four could fail to

Above, John Barnett was a former quality control manager at Boeing. (Photo source: BBC)

deploy in a real-life emergency.

Barnett said he had alerted managers to his concerns, but no action had been taken.

Boeing denied his assertions. However, a 2017 review by the US regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), did uphold some of Mr Barnett’s concerns: It established that the location of at least 53 “non-conforming” parts in the factory was unknown, and that they were considered lost. Boeing was ordered to take remedial action.

On the oxygen cylinders issue, the company said that in 2017 it had “identified some oxygen bottles received from the supplier that were not deploying properly”. But it denied that any of them were actually fitted on aircraft.

After retiring, he embarked on a long-running legal action against the company. He accused Boeing of denigrating his character and hampering his career because of the issues he pointed out—charges rejected by Boeing.

At the time of his death, Mr Barnett had been in Charleston for legal interviews linked to that case. Last week, he gave a formal deposition in which he was questioned by Boeing’s lawyers, before being cross-examined by his own counsel.

He had been due to undergo further questioning on Saturday. When he did not appear, enquiries were made at his hotel. He was subsequently found dead in his truck in the hotel car park.

Speaking to the BBC, his lawyer described his death as “tragic.”

Research contact: @BBC