Boeing workers walk to and from their cars during a shift change on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Boeing workers walk to and from their cars during a shift change on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Boeing whistleblower found dead had worked at Everett plant

John Barnett, 62, was a quality manager with Boeing. Authorities believe he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound Saturday.

By Lori Aratani and Niha Masih / The Washington Post

A former Boeing employee who raised quality-control and safety concerns over the company’s aircraft production was found dead this week, according to authorities in South Carolina.

John Barnett, 62, was a quality manager with Boeing who retired in 2017 after several decades with the company. He died March 9 from what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the Charleston County coroner’s office said in a statement. The Charleston City Police Department is investigating, it added.

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

Barnett had worked at Boeing’s factory in Everett before moving to South Carolina in 2010, according to The New York Times.

The Federal Aviation Administration and lawyers for Barnett did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a 2019 New York Times story, Barnett was described as one of several whistleblowers who raised quality issues at Boeing’s South Carolina plant where the company builds its 787 Dreamliner aircraft. Barnett said he had discovered clusters of metal shavings left near electrical systems for flight controls, which he said could have “catastrophic” results if the shavings penetrated the wiring.

Barnett said he repeatedly raised his concerns to his supervisors but was ignored and instead transferred to another part of the plant. Barnett later filed a whistleblower complaint with the FAA. In 2017, the FAA issued a directive requiring that 787s be cleared of shavings before delivery, according to the story.

A Boeing spokesman told the New York Times that safety issues are “immediately investigated and changes are made whenever necessary.”

Later in 2019, Barnett told the BBC that he had also uncovered problems with the aircraft’s oxygen systems, which could mean some breathing masks would not work in an emergency, and that workers under pressure to meet production targets had installed substandard parts on planes. Boeing denied the allegations.

Boeing is under fresh scrutiny after a door plug blew out midflight on an Alaska Airlines-operated 737 Max 9 in January. The blowout was linked to loose bolts and led the FAA to ground all Boeing 737 Max 9 planes with a door plug.

Last week, the FAA said its six-week audit prompted by the incident had identified several issues of noncompliance in areas including Boeing’s manufacturing process control and its parts handling. The agency said it has halted production expansion of the Boeing 737 Max and has given the company 90 days to come up with a plan to fix the issues.

Boeing’s 737 Max jets were previously grounded in 2019 when software forced down the noses of two new planes in a way their pilots could not overcome, causing two crashes that killed 346 people.

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