Boeing Whistleblower Found Dead Before Safety Deposition Against Company

    John Barnett was said to be engaged in a defamation case against the aviation giant when he was discovered with a gunshot wound to the head.

    Warning: This post contains mention of suicide.

    A former Boeing employee known for raising concerns about the safety of its planes was found dead just before a deposition he was reportedly scheduled to give against the company.

    The building of Boeing 787 Dreamliners is seen at the aviation company's North Charleston, South Carolina, assembly plant in May of last year.

    John Barnett, 62, was discovered with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head outside of a Holiday Inn in Charleston, South Carolina, on Saturday, the Charleston Police Department said in a statement that cited the local county coroner’s office, which separately confirmed his death to HuffPost.

    His discovery in a vehicle, just before 10:20 a.m., followed a request for a welfare check at the hotel, police said.

    “We understand the global attention this case has garnered, and it is our priority to ensure that the investigation is not influenced by speculation but is led by facts and evidence,” the police department said, declining to comment further due to the ongoing investigation.

    A Lufthansa airplane takes off from an airport, with the terminal visible in the background

    Barnett was in the middle of a defamation case against Boeing after claiming to have witnessed a series of safety issues during his 32 years working for the aviation giant, BBC reported.

    The former quality control engineer, who retired from Boeing in 2017, was one of several employees who spoke out publicly about safety issues in the years after manufacturing first started on Boeing’s 787 Dreamliners near Charleston.

    Barnett, who the coroner’s office said was from Louisiana, had been in Charleston for legal interviews last week after accusing Boeing of denigrating his character and hampering his career because of the issues he pointed out. He was scheduled to undergo further questioning Saturday when he failed to appear, his attorney, who did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment, told the BBC.

    Airplane silhouetted against cloudy sky, with light from sunset visible in the background

    Boeing, in a statement to HuffPost, said it is saddened by Barnett’s death and expressed condolences to his family and friends.

    Barnett was among multiple employees who had accused the company of repeatedly ignoring safety issues to fast-track the Dreamliner’s production.

    In a 2019 interview with The New York Times, Barnett said that he filed a whistleblower complaint with regulators after finding metal shavings hanging over wiring that commands the plane’s flight controls, putting the wires in jeopardy of “catastrophic” injury during flight.

    Boeing logo on the exterior of a corporate building with reflective windows

    He repeatedly reported the shavings to his bosses, but said his requests to have them removed were ignored and he was moved to another part of the plant.

    Boeing, at the time of that complaint, reportedly said that the issue did not present a flight safety issue.

    “As a quality manager at Boeing, you’re the last line of defense before a defect makes it out to the flying public,” Barnett told the Times. “And I haven’t seen a plane out of Charleston yet that I’d put my name on saying it’s safe and airworthy.”

    Barnett also raised concerns to the BBC in 2019 about the planes’ oxygen systems, saying that testing found a failure rate of 25%. He said that nothing was done to improve them, however.

    Boeing has been under the microscope since a door panel blew off of a 737 Max 9 jet in midair back in January. A preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board last month concluded that workers likely failed to reattach bolts to the door during repair work.

    Boeing logo painted on grassy surface

    In the weeks after that incident, Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, which are the only two U.S. airlines using Boeing’s Max 9 jets, reported finding loose bolts and other installation issues on some of the planes.

    A Federal Aviation Administration audit of Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems, which manufactures the 737 Max’s fuselage, recently found “multiple instances in which the companies allegedly failed to comply with manufacturing quality control requirements,” the FAA said.

    Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Michael Whitaker testifies before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

    Boeing was given 90 days to outline a plan of action in response to the FAA’s findings. It was also ordered to review and address separate findings by a panel of outside experts, who examined safety culture within the company dating back to two 737 Max 8 crashes in 2018 and 2019.

    Dial 988 in the US to reach the National Suicide Prevention LifelineThe Trevor Project, which provides help and suicide-prevention resources for LGBTQ youth, contact is 1-866-488-7386. Find other international suicide helplines at Befrienders Worldwide (

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