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Boeing whistleblower found dead amid legal case

John Barnett was set to undergo questioning in court on Saturday, but failed to show up

A former Boeing employee was found dead in the US when he was scheduled to give evidence in a whistleblower lawsuit against his former employer, the BBC reported on Tuesday.

The US aerospace giant’s production standards in the US and worldwide have come under increased scrutiny recently following a mid-air door blowout on one of their planes in January.

The 62-year-old former Boeing quality manager was found dead in his car in a hotel parking lot – seven years after his retirement from a 32-year career with Boeing. In the days prior to his death, he had been giving a formal deposition in a lawsuit against the company.

The local coroner confirmed Barnett’s death to the BBC, saying he died of a self-inflicted wound on March 9. A police investigation is ongoing.

In 2019, Barnett told the BBC that he saw Boeing employees pressured into deliberately fitting sub-standard parts in aircraft to cope with increased demands.

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He said he uncovered problems with the oxygen systems in 2016 during his stint as quality manager, where up to a quarter of the breathing masks did not deploy properly during emergency scenario testing.

The failure to follow procedures at the factory led to some components going missing, sometimes with non-compliant parts being taken from scrap bins and fitted to planes on the production line to prevent delays, he told the news corporation.

According to Barnett, his complaints to management did not lead to any action being taken. Boeing denied the whistleblower’s assertions, conceding that some oxygen bottles were defective, but claiming that none of them were installed in their aircraft.

Reviews in 2017 by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) found that 53 non-conforming parts went off the record at the factory.

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After his retirement in 2017, Barnett took on his former employer in long-running legal action, accusing the company of denigrating his character and hampering his career due to the issues he drew attention to – allegations Boeing denied.

An FAA audit of Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems, prompted by January’s 737 MAX-9 door blowout incident and published last Monday, “identified non-compliance issues in Boeing’s manufacturing process control, parts handling and storage, and product control.”

In March 2019, a Boeing 737 MAX belonging to Ethiopian Airlines crashed soon after takeoff, killing all 157 passengers and crew. The incident came five months after a Lion Air 737 MAX crash in Indonesia which killed all 189 people aboard. The tragedies led to a 20-month grounding of the corporation’s 737 MAX aircraft line.


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