Boeing Whistleblower John Barnett’s Death Ruled Suicide

AP Photo/Lewis Joly

Boeing whistleblower John Barnett, 62, was found dead on March 9, 2024, in Charleston, South Carolina. His death marked the tragic end to his long battle against the airplane manufacturer over its problematic safety and production practices. The Charleston Police Department confirmed on Monday that Barnett died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound and ruled his death a suicide.


Barnett, who worked at the company for more than three decades, was in the city for a deposition related to his lawsuit against Boeing, claiming retaliation for his exposure of their faulty safety procedures.

In a statement, the whistleblower’s lawyers expressed shock at the news, saying they “didn’t see any indication he would take his own life. No one can believe it.”

The Charleston Police Department’s investigation found no evidence of foul play. The police report noted that he “sustained a fatal gunshot wound to his head at close range while inside his locked vehicle.”

Law enforcement found a suicide note in the front seat of Barnett’s vehicle, suggesting he was under severe pressure.

There was also a notebook found in the front seat of the car that showed signs that “he was going through a period of serious personal distress,” according to a media release about the police investigation.

Police shared with CNN an image of a note left in the car, which had multiple disparaging messages directed at Boeing.

Barnett became a prominent figure after he publicly raised concerns about Boeing’s safety practices. In a 2019 interview with the New York Times, he said he hadn’t “seen a plane out of Charleston yet that I’d put my name on saying it’s safe and airworthy.”

The company has denied the allegations lodged by Barnett and other whistleblowers. However, there have been several instances in which airplanes manufactured by the company have displayed serious safety issues, including an incident in which a door plug on a 737 Max blew out shortly after taking off.


Homendy’s revelations were alarming, to say the least. She said that according to records the plane involved had depressurization alerts on three prior occasions, including twice in the days before the incident.

They asked about the auto-pressurization fail light that did illuminate in three previous flights, one on December 7, one on January 3, and January 4.

In these three previous flight, after the light illuminated they flipped the switch to alt mode, which is normal. There’s a backup. It was very benign. Nothing occurred. The light illuminated. They flipped it. They reported it. It was tested by maintenance, and then re-set.

I’m sure I will be asked if there is any correlation between the light that illuminated and the expulsion of the door plug. We don’t know that there was any correlation of the two. It could be entirely separate.

We do know that there was a decision by Alaska Airlines, a restriction they put in place, they call it an ETOPS restriction, that prevented that plane from being flown to Hawaii, over water, so if some light did illuminate it could return very quickly to an airport.

Again, it’s very much described [by Alaska Airlines] as benign, but they did order -- but they did order additional maintenance look at that light. That was not completed before the time of this event. We plan to look at that more.


In May, another whistleblower named Joshua Dean died from a fast-spreading infection. This happened only weeks after he had been fired by Boeing for highlighting their safety problems.

These cases raise concerns about the lack of robust protections for whistleblowers. Boeing has been accused of retaliating against those who speak up about the flaws in its safety practices. This is a problem because not only is it wrong for the company to engage in this conduct, but it could also be dangerous for travelers flying on their planes. As Barnett once said, “As a quality manager at Boeing, you’re the last line of defense before a defect makes it out to the flying public.”


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