Boeing Whistleblower Dies by Suicide While Participating in Lawsuit Against the Company

Former Boeing quality manager John Barnett was found dead before he was supposed to participate in a deposition against the aircraft manufacturer.

Boeing 737 MAX airplane on tarmac with people in background at an aviation event
Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Boeing 737 MAX airplane on tarmac with people in background at an aviation event

John Barnett, a retired Boeing employee turned whistleblower, has died by suicide.

According to the BBC, the 62-year-old died from a “self-inflicted” gunshot wound on March 9. Police are currently investigating his death.

Barnett’s attorney, who called his client’s death “tragic,” expressed doubts about the circumstances of his passing while labeling the self-inflicted wound as an allegation, TMZ reports.

Barnett worked for the plane manufacturing giant for 32 years. In 2010, he served as a quality manager for the North Carolina plant. He retired in 2017 over health reasons.

Days before his death, Barnett had been participating in a whistleblower lawsuit against the company, alleging in 2019 that under-pressure workers were fitting sub-standard parts to aircrafts on the production line.

Barnett made another startling claim to the BBC when he described critical issues with oxygen systems, meaning that only one in four breathing masks would not work during an emergency, citing a 25 percent failure rate.

He also raised concerns about the rushed assembly processes and compromised safety protocols to prevent production delays.

Although Boeing refuted these claims, a 2017 review by the Federal Aviation Administration upheld some of Barnett’s concerns and directed the company to take remedial action. 

After retiring in 2017, Barnett pursued legal action against the company, accusing them of damaging his character.

At the time of his death, Barnett was in Charleston, South Carolina for legal interviews related to the case. He had given a formal deposition where he was questioned by Boeing’s lawyers and was cross-examined by his own legal counsel.

He did not show up for further questioning on Saturday and was later found dead in his truck at the hotel’s parking lot.

"We are saddened by Mr. Barnett's passing, and our thoughts are with his family and friends,” read a statement from Boeing, per the BBC.

Barnett’s death comes at a time when both Boeing and its supplier Spirit Aerosystems have been under scrutiny regarding their production standards, following an incident in January where an emergency exit door on a Boeing 737 Max blew out during an Alaska Airlines flight.

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