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Boeing Whistleblower’s Apparent Suicide Sparks Intense Online Discussion

Published: March 12, 2024
A Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner taxis past the Final Assembly Building at Boeing South Carolina in North Charleston, South Carolina on March 31, 2017. (Image: REUTERS/Randall Hill/File Photo)

On March 9, John Barnett, a former Boeing employee of over three decades, was found dead in his truck in the parking lot of the South Carolina hotel where he was staying just days after testifying in court against his former employer.

At the time of his death in Charleston County, Barnett was in the midst of testifying against the aviation giant, revealing quality standard concerns he had with the company’s manufacturing processes. 

The Charleston County coroner’s office said that the Boeing whistleblower died from an apparent “self-inflicted” wound, but local police say they are still investigating his death. 

According to the Daily Mail on March 12, Sgt. Anthony Gibson of The Charleston Police Department told local media that “Detectives are actively investigating this case and are awaiting the formal cause of death, along with any additional findings that might shed further light on the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Barnett.”

According to Barnett’s attorney’s he showed no indication that he would take his own life and was in good spirits after providing testimony.

On March 13, Barnett’s attorneys, Robert Turkewitz and Brian Knowles, told Fox News Digital, “We need more information about what happened to John. The Charleston police need to investigate this fully and accurately and tell the public what they find out. No detail can be left unturned.”

His death has sparked a media firestorm and intense online discussion. 

Barnett, who worked for Boeing for 32 years — seven of which as a quality control manager – retired from the company in 2017. 

He worked at the facility that produces Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner jet. 

In 2019, Barnett stepped forward with a number of other whistleblowers to raise concerns over the company’s manufacturing processes, claiming that the companies rush to build the aircraft meant safety was being compromised.

He alleged that workers were pressured to cut corners and use substandard parts to rush the aircraft into service.

Barnett also recently testified that he uncovered issues with the aircraft oxygen systems, and that he had found sharp metal shavings near flight control wiring.

As a quality control expert, he said that he had repeatedly raised his concerns with managers only to be ignored and moved to another part of the factory. 

Following his retirement, Barnett sued Boeing for allegedly retaliating against him for raising concerns, allegations Boeing denies.


Important context

At the time of his death, Barnett was in Charleston giving interviews for his whistleblower case against Boeing.

He had already provided a formal deposition, answering questions from Boeing’s legal team, and undergone cross-examination by his own lawyers. 

He was scheduled to undergo further questioning on March 9 but failed to appear in court.

In a statement to TIME, Boeing said the company was “saddened” to hear of his death and that its “thoughts are with his family and friends.”

Barnett’s death comes as Boeing faces increasing scrutiny over its operations, following a number of high-profile incidents involving its aircraft. 

Most recently, on March 11, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, operated by Chilean carrier LATAM, experienced a technical issue that caused the flight to suddenly plunge mid-flight. At least 50 people were injured after being thrown from their seats.

This came after another Boeing aircraft, a Boeing 777 operated by United Airlines, was forced to make an emergency landing after a tire fell off during takeoff. 

Boeing is also facing a criminal probe after a door on a Boeing 737 Max 9 jet blew off mid-flight earlier this year.

This probe is expected to be considered in a review over whether or not the company complied with a settlement in a federal investigation into two fatal crashes of Boeing’s 737 Max 8 jets in 2018 and 2019 which claimed the lives of nearly 350 people. 


Intense online discussion 

The circumstances surrounding Barnett’s death have sparked intense online discussion, with many questioning the details around his death.

Many are speculating that Barnett’s death may not have been a suicide, with even his lawyer describing his suicide as “alleged.” 

Popular social media user, Ian Miles Cheong, told his over 940,000 followers on X, “The Boeing whistleblower’s lawyer doubts he committed suicide after he was found dead… After Barnett was found, the local coroner concluded that he had died from a ‘self-inflicted’ gunshot wound. However, Barnett’s lawyer expressed doubt about the coroner’s findings and called it ‘alleged.’”

Others are drawing attention to Barnett’s televised testimony that warned about Boeing’s issues with its manufacturing processes. 

“Boeing whistleblower John Barnett’s warning over aviation giant’s flagship 787 Dreamliner and 737 Max weeks before he was found dead – as FAA reveals company FAILED 33 of 89 audits and used Dawn soap for lubricant,” wrote one popular social media user.

Social Media personality, Ian Carroll, who was one of the first independent journalists to bring attention to Barnett’s suspicious death, published a video on X calling Barnett’s death into question, writing, “Boeing whistleblower just got suicided…Not suspicious AT ALL…”

Carroll’s video has so far been viewed over 1.6 million times.