Boeing Whistleblower Found Dead During US Court Case

A Boeing 787 near the hangar
North Charleston from North Charleston, SC, United States, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Len Varley - Assistant Editor 4 Min Read
4 Min Read

A former long-time Boeing employee at the centre of a lawsuit against the US manufacturer has been found dead after failing to turn up for a continuation of the court hearing.

John Barnett, a former quality manager at Boeing’s North Charleston plant, was found dead after failing to show in court for further testimony. Barnett was subsequently discovered dead in his car in the hotel parking lot in Charleston, SC.

Local authorities have stated that his death on 9 March was caused by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Death During Ongoing Court Case

Barnett’s death comes amidst ongoing legal proceedings. He had given a deposition last week, answering questions by Boeing’s lawyers. He was set to give further evidence when the case resumed on Saturday, but failed to show.

Barnett had recently filed a case against US plane manufacturer Boeing. The lawsuit alleged the company retaliated against him after he raised concerns about production standards and faulty parts.

The 62-year old had worked with Boeing for 32 years until his retirement in 2017 on health grounds. He was involved as quality manager on the 787 Dreamliner production line at the Charleston facility.

In 2019, he had alleged that workers were fitting rejected parts to aircraft on the production line. He also alleged that faulty oxygen systems meant one in four masks would fail during an emergency.

These concerns were raised to Boeing management at the time, however they failed to act on the advice.

However, in 2017, a review by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) found substance to some of the claims.

Traceability issues, with Boeing failing to identify the location of 53 non-conforming parts, resulted in remedial action.

Concerns Raised by Boeing Whistleblower

The lawsuit had centered on Barnett’s claims that Boeing knowingly used parts that did not meet quality control standards.

This alleged practice raised safety concerns about the aircraft production on the 787 line. Last week, Barnett had given two days of testimony before the court.

Attorney Brian Knowles gave a summary of events, saying: “John had been back and forth for quite some time getting prepared. The defense examined him for their allowed seven hours under the rules on Thursday.”

“I cross examined him all day yesterday [Friday 8 March] and did not finish. We agreed to continue this morning at 10 am [co-counsel] Rob [Turkewitz] kept calling this morning and his phone would go to voicemail.”

When John Barnett failed to make an appearance in court for day three of the hearing, his attorneys then contacted the hotel.  

‘They found him in his truck dead from an ‘alleged’ self-inflicted gunshot. We drove to the hotel and spoke with the police and the coroner,’ said Knowles.

The Boeing whistleblower’s death has now cast a shadow over the ongoing court case. His attorney has expressed doubt surrounding the circumstances of his death, requesting further investigation.

Authorities are still investigating the incident.

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A former Boeing quality manager at the center of an ongoing whistleblower lawsuit has been found dead in his car in Charleston, SC.
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