Boeing whistleblower John Barnett, who raised alarm over plane quality, is found dead

an airliner
Boeing 787 Dreamliners are built at the aviation company’s North Charleston, S.C., assembly plant in 2023. (Juliette Michel/AFP via Getty Images)

Police in Charleston, S.C., are investigating the death of John Barnett, a former Boeing quality control manager who became a whistleblower when he went public with his concerns about serious safety issues in the company’s commercial airplanes.

Barnett’s body was found in a vehicle in a Holiday Inn parking lot in Charleston on Saturday, police said. One day earlier, he testified about the string of problems he says he identified at Boeing’s plant where he once helped inspect the 787 aircraft before delivery to customers.

Police say officers were sent to the hotel to conduct a welfare check after people were unable to contact Barnett, who had traveled to Charleston to testify in his lawsuit against Boeing.

“Upon their arrival, officers discovered a male inside a vehicle suffering from a gunshot wound to the head,” police said in a statement sent to NPR. “He was pronounced deceased at the scene.”

The office of Charleston County Coroner Bobbi Jo O’Neal said that Barnett, who had been living in Louisiana after retiring from Boeing, died “from what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

Charleston police say detectives are actively investigating the case and are awaiting a formal cause of death as they try to determine the circumstances surrounding Barnett’s death.

Barnett, who spent decades working for Boeing at its plants in Everett, Wash., and North Charleston, S.C., had repeatedly alleged that Boeing’s manufacturing practices had declined — and that rather than improve them, he added, managers had pressured workers not to document potential defects and problems.

Barnett, 62, made international headlines in April of 2019 when he and other former Boeing employees spoke to The New York Times about what he called shoddy manufacturing problems at Boeing. Barnett accused the company of adopting a culture that prioritized raw numbers and profits over quality — and by extension, passenger safety.

“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 newspaper. “And I haven’t seen a plane out of Charleston yet that I’d put my name on saying it’s safe and airworthy.”

By the time the article appeared, Barnett had already filed a whistleblower complaint against Boeing, saying that his attempts to raise quality and safety problems had been ignored and that he was punished for continuing to flag them.

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