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Former Boeing employee, who raised concerns over production standards, found dead in US

John Barnett raised several concerns over Boeing's production standards and was part of a long-running legal case against the airline giant since his retirement. His death comes at a time when Boeing is under intense scrutiny after the doors of one of its planes blew off after take-off in January.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Charleston Published on: March 12, 2024 10:09 IST
Boeing whistleblower found dead, John barnett, production standards
Image Source : X Former Boeing employee John Barnett

Charleston: A former Boeing employee who previously raised concerns about the company's production standards has been found dead in the United States. John Barnett had worked for Boeing for 32 years, until his retirement in 2017, and gave evidence in a whistleblower lawsuit against the aircraft manufacturing giant, according to a report by BBC.

The Charleston County coroner confirmed his death to the BBC on Monday. It said the 62-year-old had died from a "self-inflicted" wound on 9 March and police were investigating.  "We are saddened by Mr. Barnett's passing, and our thoughts are with his family and friends," Boeing said in a statement.

Barnett's death comes as Boeing and its supplier face intense scrutiny over production standards following an incident in January, where an unused emergency exit door of a Boeing 737 Max blew off mid-air after taking off from Portland International Airport.

Who is John Barnett?

Barnett worked as a quality manager at the North Charleston plant since 2010 while making the 787 Dreamliner, a state-of-the-art airliner used mainly on long-haul routes. He told BBC in 2019 that workers had been deliberately fitting sub-standard parts to aircraft on the production line after being under pressure.

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 also shared his concerns over the push to get new aircraft resulting in the assembly process being rushed and safety becoming compromised, something the company denied.

He also said workers had failed to follow procedures intended to track components through the factory, allowing defective components to go missing, while sub-standard parts were being fitted to planes 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 per cent.

Despite flagging these concerns several times, Barnett said the company took no action. Boeing denied the whistleblower's claims, even though a 2017 review by the US Federal Aviation Administration supported some of his concerns. It established that the location of at least 53 "non-conforming" parts in the factory was unknown, and that they were considered lost. 

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". However, Boeing denied that any of them were actually fitted on aircraft.

Post-retirement life and death

After retiring in 2017 due to health reasons, Barnett became part of a long-running legal action against the airline giant, accusing it of denigrating his character and hampering his career because of the issues he pointed out - all claims were later denied by Boeing. He had been living in Charleston, South Carolina for legal interviews related to the case at the time of his death.

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. However, he was found dead in his truck in the hotel car park. His lawyer described his death as "tragic".

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