Boeing whistleblower found dead in truck in South Carolina during lawsuit against company

WARNING: This story discusses suicide

A former Boeing worker who became a whistleblower against the company has been found dead in his truck in the US.

John Barnett, 62, had worked for the US aircraft manufacturer for 32 years. He was outspoken about Boeing's alleged slipping production standards.

At the time of his death, Barnett was in Charleston, South Carolina, giving evidence in a closely-watched legal case against Boeing.

He testified just last week in front of Boeing's lawyers and was cross-examined by his own, too. He was meant to be questioned again on Saturday, but never arrived.

He was later found dead in his truck in his hotel car park. The Charleston County coroner described Barnett's death as "self-inflicted".

Boeing said it was "saddened" to hear of Barnett's death.

The news comes at a time when aircraft production at both Boeing and supplier Spirit Aerosystems come under heightened scrutiny.

It also comes as Air New Zealand on Tuesday announced it would suspend flights to Chicago from the end of March, due to ongoing availability issues with the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines in Boeing 787 planes.

Boeing's Charleston factory in South Carolina.
Boeing's Charleston factory in South Carolina. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Barnett's time at Boeing

Barnett began working as a quality manager at Boeing's plant in North Charleston, South Carolina in 2010.

The plant makes 787 Dreamliner planes - the ones used on long-haul routes.

Soon after Barnett started work there, he became concerned that aircraft assembly may be rushed, and safety compromised.

He told the BBC five years ago that workers had been deliberately putting inferior parts into aircraft because workers were under pressure to keep production lines moving.

He also claimed problems with the oxygen systems meant one-in-four oxygen masks would fail during an in-flight emergency.

Barnett said he elevated his concerns to his seniors, but nothing was done. Boeing denies all of Barnett's allegations.

Boeing's headaches

After retiring in 2017, he started a lengthy legal battle against Boeing, accusing the manufacturer of hindering his career, which Boeing rejects.

That same year, a US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) review upheld some of Barnett's claims.

The FAA found at least 53 non-compliant parts were considered lost in the factory, and ordered Boeing to take remedial action.

Meanwhile, Boeing said some oxygen bottles from its supplier "were not deploying properly" and it hadn't installed them on any planes.

It's not the first time Boeing's hit the headlines due to aircraft problems.

In January, a faulty door on an Alaska Airlines Boeing plane was missing bolts, causing it to fly off mid-air.

And a six-week review of Boeing by the FAA, published last week, found issues with the company's "manufacturing process control, parts handling and storage, and product control," according to NPR.

The FAA said there were "multiple instances where the company allegedly failed to comply with manufacturing quality control requirements".