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Boeing whistleblower, who flagged company’s production concerns, found dead in US

A Boeing whistleblower, who had raised issues about the company’s production standards, has been found dead in South Carolina in the US.

John Barnett, 62, had worked for Boeing for 32 years before he retired in 2017 on health grounds. He was found dead in his truck in a hotel car park, the Charleston County coroner told BBC News on Monday.

According to the Charleston County coroner, Barnett had died from a ‘self-inflicted’ wound on March 9 and the police were probing the incident, BBC News reported.

Barnett’s death came at a time when the production standards of Boeing and its key supplier Spirit Aerosystems have been under intense scrutiny.

It also came days after the US Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into an incident wherein an emergency door panel of an Alaska Airlines flight blew off mid-air in January. The blowout on the Alaska Airlines flight was a Boeing 737 MAX.

Before his death, Barnett had been providing evidence about Boeing’s production standards in a whistleblower lawsuit against the company.

He worked as a quality manager from 2010 at the North Charleston plant that was making the 787 Dreamliner, an airliner mainly used on long-haul routes.

In 2019, Barnett told BBC that workers, who were under pressure to meet deadlines, had been deliberately installing sub-standard parts to Boeing aircraft on the production line.

He also said sub-standard parts were removed from scrap bins and fitted to planes to meet the deadline on the production line.

The former Boeing employee alleged that tests on emergency oxygen systems for the 787 Dreamliner had a failure rate of 25 percent, meaning that one in four oxygen masks will not work in the case of a real-time emergency, BBC reported.

Barnett said he had raised his concerns to the managers, but no action had been taken.

While Boeing junked his claims, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the US regulator, did uphold some of the concerns flagged by Barnett.

The FAA said the location of at least 53 “non-conforming” parts in the factory was unknown and hence, were considered lost. It asked Boeing to take remedial action, according to BBC.

On the oxygen cylinders’ issue, Boeing said it had “identified some oxygen bottles received from the supplier that were not deploying properly” in 2017. However, the company denied that these were fitted on aircraft.

Last week, Barnett was questioned by Boeing’s lawyers during a testimony, before being cross-examined by his counsel. He was scheduled to appear for questioning on March 9 (Saturday). When he did not show up, inquiries were made at his hotel. Eventually, he was found dead in his truck.

Barnett’s lawyer described his death as “tragic”.

Boeing also expressed its condolences and said, “We are saddened by Mr Barnett’s passing and our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

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