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Boeing whistleblower who raised concerns about planemaker’s production standards at 787 Dreamliner factory found dead after testifying to court

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A former Boeing Co. worker who raised concerns about the planemaker’s production standards at its North Charleston 787 Dreamliner factory has been found dead, the BBC reported

John Barnett, who worked at Boeing for 32 years until his retirement in 2017, died March 9 from a self-inflicted wound, the BBC said. His death was confirmed by the Charleston County Coroner, the report said. 

In an emailed statement, Boeing said it was “saddened” to hear of Barnett’s death and the company’s thoughts “are with his family and friends.”   

In the days before his death, Barnett had been giving evidence in a whistleblower lawsuit against Boeing, the BBC said. He had been due to undergo further questioning on Saturday, and when he didn’t appear, inquiries were made at his hotel. He was subsequently found dead in his truck in the hotel car park, the report said.

In 2019, Barnett was cited in a New York Times story saying that the North Charleston factory, one of two plants that makes the 787 Dreamliner, had faced problems with production and oversight that created a safety threat. Faulty parts had been installed in some of the planes, and metal shavings were often left inside the jets, the NYT reported. Barnett said he found clusters of metal slivers hanging over the wiring that commands flight controls, the report said. 

The same year, he told the BBC that under-pressure workers had been deliberately fitting sub-standard parts to aircraft on the production line.

Boeing’s safety record is back in the spotlight after the Jan. 5 blowout of a door plug on a 737 Max 9 operated by Alaskan Airlines shortly after takeoff. No one was injured and the plane landed safely. 

Boeing has confirmed it can’t locate any records of the work performed on the panel that failed and suggested company procedures weren’t followed, according to a letter sent to a US senator who leads the committee overseeing aviation issues. US regulators last month gave the company 90 days to devise a plan to fix what it called “systemic” quality-control issues, while the Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into the Alaska Air incident.  

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