NATIONAL NEWS

A former Boeing manager who raised safety concerns appears to have taken his own life, coroner says

Mar 12, 2024, 12:47 PM | Updated: Mar 13, 2024, 7:47 am

FILE - The logo for Boeing appears on a screen above a trading post on the floor of the New York St...

FILE - The logo for Boeing appears on a screen above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, July 13, 2021. Boeing says the head of its 737 jetliner program is leaving the company immediately, paving the way for the aircraft maker to appoint new leadership at the troubled division. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

(AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

A former Boeing manager who raised safety questions about the aircraft maker has been found dead outside a hotel in South Carolina, according to local authorities.

The body of John Barnett, 62, was found Saturday in a car outside a Holiday Inn, suffering from what the Charleston County Coroner’s Office said appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The Louisiana resident was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police in Charleston said detectives were waiting for a formal determination of the cause of death and “any additional findings that might shed further light on the circumstances surrounding” the end of Barnett’s life. Police noted “the global attention this case has garnered.”

Barnett was a longtime Boeing employee and worked as a quality-control manager before he retired in 2017. In the years after that, he shared his concerns with journalists.

“John was deeply concerned about the safety of the aircraft and flying public, and had identified some serious defects that he felt were not adequately addressed,” Barnett’s brother, Rodney, said in a family statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday. “He said that Boeing had a culture of concealment and was putting profits over safety.”

Rodney Barnett said working at Boeing created stress for John.

“He was suffering from PTSD and anxiety attacks as a result of being subjected to the hostile work environment at Boeing, which we believe led to his death,” the brother said.

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

Experts say the reasons people take their own lives are complicated, and that recent increases in suicides could be driven by several factors, including higher rates of depression and limited access to mental health services.

In 2019, Barnett told The New York Times about quality issues at Boeing’s factory in South Carolina, where the 787 jetliner is assembled.

Barnett said he found discarded metal shavings near wiring for the flight controls. He said it could have been “catastrophic” if the sharp pieces had pierced the wiring. He said after he complained to superiors, they moved him to another part of the plant.

Barnett told the BBC that same year that up to a quarter of the oxygen systems on the 787 – a two-aisle plane that airlines use mostly for international flights – might not work because of faulty parts installed at the Boeing plant. Boeing denied the claim.

Barnett filed a whistleblower complaint with the government, which is still pending. A hearing on the case was scheduled for June.

Boeing’s production practices have been questioned both on the 787, a model called the Dreamliner, and the company’s best-selling plane, the 737 Max. The company has come under increased scrutiny since a panel blew off a 737 Max during an Alaska Airlines flight in January.

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EDITOR’S NOTE — This story includes discussion of suicide. The national suicide and crisis lifeline is available by calling or texting 988. There is also an online chat at 988lifeline.org.

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James Pollard in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.


Suicide prevention resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call, text, or chat the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 which is answered 24/7/365 by crisis counselors at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. All calls to legacy crisis hotlines, including the old National Suicide Prevention hotline, 1-800-273-8255, will also connect to a crisis care worker at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute as well.

Additional resources

  • SafeUT: Parents, students, and educators can connect with a licensed crisis counselor through chat by downloading the SafeUT app or by calling 833-3SAFEUT (833-372-3388)
  • SafeUT Frontline: First responders, including firefighters, law enforcement, EMS, and healthcare professionals can chat with a licensed crisis counselor at no cost 24/7/365 by downloading the SafeUT Frontline app.
  • SafeUTNG: Members of the National Guard can chat with a licensed crisis counselor at no cost 24/7/365 by downloading the SafeUTNG app.
  • Utah Warm Line: For non-crisis situations, when you need a listening ear as you heal and recover from a personal struggle, call 1-833 SPEAKUT 8:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m., 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
  • The Huntsman Mental Health Institute offers a wide variety of programs and services including suicide prevention and crisis services, hospital treatment, therapy & medication management, substance Use & addiction recovery, child & teen programs, and maternal mental health services including birth trauma, pregnancy loss, infertility, and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
  • LiveOnUtah.org is a statewide effort to prevent suicide by promoting education, providing resources, and changing Utah’s culture around suicide and mental health. They offer resources for faith based groups, LGBTQ+, youth, employers, firearm suicide prevention, and crisis and treatment options.

Counties in Utah provide services for mental health and substance use disorders. Centers are run by the thirteen Local Mental Health and Substance Use Authorities all across the state and offer therapy, substance use disorder treatment, support groups, mobile services, youth treatment, and more.

These resources and more information can be found here: https://www.uacnet.org/behavioralhealth.

Other community-based resources

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A former Boeing manager who raised safety concerns appears to have taken his own life, coroner says