Invezz investigates: Boeing whistleblower found dead in suspicious circumstances

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on Mar 15, 2024
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  • The world was rocked earlier this week, when Boeing whistleblower John Barnett was found dead.
  • Although Barnett's gunshot wound appeared self-inflicted, the timing was suspicious.
  • Invezz investigates, including looking into new information by other parties.

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On Saturday February 9th, a man was found dead in his vehicle at the Holiday Inn where he’d been staying. The cause of death? A gunshot wound to the head which appeared to be self-inflicted – but, crucially, has not been ruled as a suicide.

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That man was John Barnett, a former quality assurance engineer with Boeing. And that day, Barnett was set to give his testimony at a deposition in an ongoing defamation case against the airline’s quality procedures, initiated by Barnett.

A seven-year fight

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The whistleblower’s troubled history with the world’s largest aircraft-making company began in 2017, when Barnett told America’s Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) that certain Boeing crafts’ oxygen cylinders were faulty and not deploying properly.

That same year, Barnett took early retirement from Boeing, allegedly for ‘health reasons’ – a move which he later said was forced on him by Boeing.

He took his fight to the media in 2019, when he did his first story with the BBC on the matter.

Suspicious timing

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According to Barnett’s legal team, the deposition was in its third day – the exact day Barnett would be called to the stand to be cross-examined on his personal testimony for the case.

Barnett’s lawyers on the case, Brian Knowles and Robert Turkewitz, described Barnett as stable and optimistic at the time of his death to TIME magazine – not like someone who was about to take his own life.

His whistleblower retaliation case was finally nearing its end… He was in very good spirits and really looking forward to putting this phase of his life behind him and moving on. We didn’t see any indication he would take his own life.”

Introducing Ed Pierson

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“There were promises they were going to do something. And from what I could see they did nothing,” said fellow Boeing whistleblower Ed Pierson just last month to Corporate Crime Reporter.

According to Pierson, a former manager at the Boeing factory, much of the blame for Boeing’s string of catastrophes can be laid at the feet of Boeing factory processes, which he calls a “dangerously unstable production environment”.

“The factory was plagued with overworked employees, chronic part shortages, quality issues, and unrelenting schedule pressure to deliver MAX aeroplanes.”

Pierson, who has since these comments created an organisation named the Foundation for Aviation Safety, still “continues to investigate the truth behind the 737 MAX tragedies and the need for stronger regulatory oversight,” in his own words.

Pierson’s most recent report, entitled “Delta Airlines A321 vs Alaska Airlines 737-9 from Jan 1, 2022 to Jan 1, 2023”, looks at some of Boeing’s more recent failures.

A brief snippet of Pierson’s report

The report, which Invezz has seen, details more than 800 different failures on board Boeing aircrafts with various airlines.

Some of the entries are particularly worrying, such as cabins failing to pressurise, burned wires found within planes and strong smells of burning plastic in one plane once already at 10,000 feet in the air, which turned out to have a cooling fan leaking internally on the flight.

This ties up with Boeing’s own words on March 12th recently, when the company said on their website that: 

FAA inspectors went deep into our Renton factories in January and February to audit our production and quality control. They examined 737 work instructions, monitored mechanics, inspected for defects, and more. The vast majority of our audit non-compliances involved not following our approved processes and procedures.”

The Boeing share price

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Unsurprisingly, the Boeing share price has had substantial turbulence of late.

The share price of Boeing Co (NYSE:BA) has fallen almost 28% in 2024 so far, at the time of this article going to press.

Boeing shares stood at $198.98 at market close on Friday March 8th, the day before Barnett’s death. At markets opening on Monday 11th, it had nosedived to $193.98, before falling all the way to $190.37 per share just one hour later.

That same day, the news began to be reported publicly at 18:29 Eastern Time. The share price quickly dropped within the next few trading hours, including Tuesday the 12th, to just $183.45 – more than $15 lower than it had been before Barnett’s death.

The public outcry

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Tellingly, the news was reported by United Kingdom mainstream media, including the BBC, who first interviewed Barnett in 2017, a full 24 hours before it was covered by United States mainstream media.

Members of the public appear to be outraged at Barnett’s death. Itchy-Mechanic-1479 took to Reddit to post that:

My uncle worked at Boeing from the 1970s and retired after 40 years. It all began when a foolish CEO decided to move the company HQ to Chicago from Seattle, then started farming out manufacturing to poorly equipped and untrained non-union shops for aircraft production. Toss in budget cuts for FAA inspectors, airline deregulation, an ageing aviation workforce, logistics and poor workmanship, it seems like some part of a Boeing aircraft is falling off or failing every day.”

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