Another Boeing Whistleblower Dies

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The aviation sector is dealing with the loss of two whistleblowers who had exposed concerns about safety procedures at Boeing and its suppliers.

Joshua “Josh” Dean, a quality auditor at Boeing’s supplier Spirit AeroSystems, passed away on April 30, 2024 following a sudden bout of influenza, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and pneumonia. He was 45 years old.

Dean’s passing came after the death of John Barnett, another whistleblower, at the age of 62. Barnett died in March 2024 from what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. At the time of his death, he was testifying in his retaliation lawsuit against Boeing.

Dean had been critically ill in the days preceding his death. He was airlifted from a hospital in Wichita, Kansas to another in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma as his health worsened. Dean, a resident of Wichita, Kansas, where Spirit AeroSystems is located, was known for his healthy lifestyle and robust health.

Attorneys Brian Knowles and Rob Turkewitz released a joint statement to Fox News Digital, describing Dean’s death as a significant loss to the aviation community and the public. They stated, “He showed remarkable courage in standing up for what he believed to be true and right.”

In 2023, Dean lost his job at Spirit AeroSystems and subsequently lodged a retaliation complaint with federal labor officials. He claimed his dismissal was due to his flagging of safety issues concerning Boeing’s 737 MAX planes. 

Specifically, he pointed out incorrectly drilled holes in the aircraft’s fuselage. In a shareholder lawsuit against Spirit AeroSystems, he revealed defects in the aft pressure bulkhead of the 737 MAX jets. Spirit acknowledged these defects in August 2023, following Dean’s dismissal.

Dean was one of the initial whistleblowers to claim that Spirit AeroSystems’ senior management ignored manufacturing defects in the 737 MAX. He lodged a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Department of Labor, alleging his dismissal was retaliation for raising safety issues. The FAA investigation found the safety issues were “appropriately addressed under an FAA-approved safety program,” but the specifics were kept confidential due to privacy concerns.

John Barnett, a former Boeing quality manager, also raised concerns about safety lapses at Boeing’s North Charleston, South Carolina plant, where he worked on the 787 Dreamliner. 

After more than 30 years with the company, Barnett resigned due to job-related stress. He filed a lawsuit and an administrative complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), alleging harassment, surveillance, and pressure to compromise on safety by Boeing managers. OSHA found no reasonable grounds to believe Boeing had violated whistleblower laws.

Barnett died in March 2024 from what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound outside a Charleston, South Carolina hotel. His lawyers revealed that the ongoing litigation and depositions were causing him severe emotional distress.

Barnett’s family continues his lawsuit, seeking “justice and accountability.” They believe that alleged retaliation from Boeing significantly contributed to his mental health decline. Barnett’s lawyer, Brian Knowles, who also represents Dean, stated that they both stood up for what they believed was right. “Aviation companies should encourage and incentivize those who raise these concerns,” Knowles told the press. “Otherwise, safety and quality are truly not these companies’ top priorities.”

The deaths of both whistleblowers occur as Boeing faces intense scrutiny over its safety practices, especially with its 737 MAX program. The aircraft model was grounded worldwide in 2019 after two crashes that took the lives of 346 people. While the planes have since returned to service, Boeing has had difficulty regaining public trust and resolving ongoing quality control issues.

Boeing’s CEO Dave Calhoun recently announced his departure at the end of the year. The company is considering acquiring Spirit AeroSystems to enhance its manufacturing quality and has promised to provide $425 million to Spirit to address its safety problems.

The aviation sector mourns the loss of Dean and Barnett while advocating for stronger protections and incentives for whistleblowers. Their experiences highlight the challenges and risks faced by whistleblowers when confronting large corporations.

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