Boeing whistleblower found dead by ‘suicide’ amid high-stakes lawsuit

John Barnett. Photo: ABC News

Boeing aviation whistleblower John Barnett was found dead in his truck on Monday, with police alleging the cause of death to be a “self-inflicted wound.”

The alleged suicide comes amid a high-stakes lawsuit with Boeing over assertions that the company had greatly lowered production standards to rush airplanes into service.

  • 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.

The Allegations: Barnett had spoken to journalists as early as 2019, sounding the alarm over the company’s apparent willingness to cut corners in airplane production. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) upheld some of Mr Barnett’s concerns as factual, forcing Boeing to take “remedial action.”

  • 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.

Context: Airliners like Boeing have been under increased scrutiny, due to an alarming rise in airplane-related accidents. In January, an emergency exit door broke off of a new Boeing 737 Max after a routine take-off from Portland International Airport.

  • Last week, the FAA said a six-week audit of the company had found “multiple instances where the company allegedly failed to comply with manufacturing quality control requirements.”