Former Boeing employee who reportedly raised concerns about company found dead


John Barnett, a former Boeing employee who had reportedly raised concerns about the company’s production issues, was found dead of an apparent suicide, according to authorities in South Carolina.

Barnett had worked at Boeing for 32 years before leaving the company in 2017, according to the BBC, which previously reported on his efforts to raise attention about the company’s production issues.

The 62-year-old died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the Charleston County coroner’s office in South Carolina confirmed on Tuesday. The Charleston City police are investigating, the coroner’s office said, without giving any other details.

Boeing, in a statement, said: “We are saddened by Mr. Barnett’s passing, and our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

Boeing in crisis over safety, quality standards

Barnett’s attorney, Brian Knowles, did not respond to requests for comment. He told the publication Corporate Crime Reporter that Barnett had been in the middle of a deposition in a whistleblower lawsuit in Charleston related to production of the 787 Dreamliner plane.

Barnett had spoken to media outlets following the Jan. 5 incident on a Boeing 737 MAX 9 plane, when a panel blew out while the flight was in mid-air.

WATCH | How the Alaska Airlines ‘trip from hell’ happened: 

Alaska Airlines ‘trip from hell’: How it happened | About That

A door plug on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 flew off at a little under 5,000 metres creating a gaping hole in the side of the Boeing 737-9 Max. Andrew Chang runs through what happened moment by moment as the plane made an emergency landing.

Boeing has since had to reckon with a full-blown crisis around its safety and quality standards. Its production has been curbed by U.S. regulators, leading to delivery delays across the aerospace industry.

With the airline facing multiple government investigations, the company needs to make “a serious transformation” around its safety and manufacturing quality, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Monday.

Over the weekend, The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) launched a criminal investigation into the blowout on an Alaska Airlines jet. That followed the company’s admission that it couldn’t find records that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sought for work done on the panel at a Boeing factory.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), part of Buttigieg’s department, is also investigating Boeing.

“Obviously we respect the independence of DOJ and NTSB doing their own work,” Buttigieg told reporters Monday, “but we are not neutral on the question of whether Boeing should fully co-operate with any entity — NTSB, us, or DOJ. They should, and we expect them to.”

Boeing has failed dozens of audits: New York Times

Buttigieg said Boeing must “go through a serious transformation here in terms of their responsiveness, their culture and their quality issues.”

Boeing gave a one-sentence response.

“We will continue to co-operate fully and transparently with all government investigations and audits, as we take comprehensive action to improve safety and quality at Boeing,” the company said.

A man in a suit sits at a microphone.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg is pictured in Washington last April. Buttigieg says Boeing must “go through a serious transformation here in terms of their responsiveness, their culture and their quality issues.” (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Alaska Airlines said it is co-operating with the Justice Department investigation.

“In an event like this, it’s normal for the DOJ to be conducting an investigation,” the Seattle-based airline said in a statement. “We are fully co-operating and do not believe we are a target of the investigation.”

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Boeing failed 33 of 89 FAA audits during an examination following the blowout on the Alaska Airlines jet.

Dish soap used to lubricate door seal, report says

The wide-ranging, six-week audit found dozens of problems in various parts of the 737 Max, the newspaper reported, citing a slide presentation on the audits of aspects of the production process.

The report said seven of 13 audits that focused on Spirit AeroSystems, which makes the body of the aircraft, also failed. One example cited was the use of liquid Dawn dish soap to lubricate a door seal during a “fit-up” process.

The audits dealing with the door plug, the part that blew off the Alaska Airlines jet, found issues at both Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems.

In an emailed comment on the report, Boeing said Tuesday that it was continuing to implement changes and to “develop a comprehensive action plan to strengthen safety and quality, and build the confidence of our customers and their passengers.”

“We are squarely focused on taking significant, demonstrated action with transparency at every turn,” the company said.

Last week, Boeing, which is based in Arlington, Va., came under withering criticism by NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy over the missing work records on the Alaska jet. She told a Senate committee that Boeing had repeatedly rebuffed her agency’s attempts to get information ever since the blowout. Boeing disputed some of Homendy’s claims; NTSB stood by her testimony.

The FAA has barred Boeing from boosting production of Max jets and gave the company 90 days to come up with a plan to fix quality-control issues.

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