May 23, 2024

Another Boeing whistleblower has died shortly after exposing problems with the company’s manufacturing practices. Joshua Dean, a former quality auditor at Spirit AeroSystems, a Boeing supplier, died from a fast-spreading infection weeks after being fired for blowing the whistle on the company.

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Dean’s death at the age of 45 comes just after the demise of John “Mitch” Barnett, who also went public with safety concerns and manufacturing defects related to Boeing’s aircraft production.

Dean identified and reported critical defects in the 737 MAX’s aft pressure bulkhead in October 2022. However, he said Spirit AeroSystems’ management dismissed his concerns. He was later terminated in April 2023.

Known as Josh, Dean lived in Wichita, Kan., where Spirit is based. He was 45, had been in good health and was noted for having a healthy lifestyle.

He died after two weeks in critical condition, his aunt Carol Parsons said.

Spirit spokesperson Joe Buccino said: “Our thoughts are with Josh Dean’s family. This sudden loss is stunning news here and for his loved ones.”

Dean had given a deposition in a Spirit shareholder lawsuit and also filed a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration alleging “serious and gross misconduct by senior quality management of the 737 production line” at Spirit.

Spirit fired Dean in April 2023, and he had filed a complaint with the Department of Labor alleging his termination was in retaliation for raising concerns related to aviation safety.

Dean’s whistleblowing and subsequent firing raise even more critical questions about the safety practices employed by major aerospace manufacturers and efforts to suppress those bringing up legitimate concerns about safety. His allegations prompted an FAA investigation. However, the details of his claims have been kept confidential.

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John Barnett, another Boeing whistleblower in South Carolina, died of a “self-inflicted” gunshot wound in March.

Barnett, an ex-quality manager at Boeing’s North Charleston plant, had been sounding the alarm since his 2017 retirement about some scary quality issues at the aircraft company:

Barnett’s death came during a break in depositions in a whistleblower retaliation suit, where he alleged under-pressure workers were deliberately fitting sub-standard parts to aircraft on the assembly line.

He said that in some cases, second-rate parts were literally removed from scrap bins, before being fitted to planes that were being built to prevent delays. A 2017 review by the FAA upheld some of his concerns, requiring Boeing to take action.

He had just given a deposition to Boeing’s lawyers for the case this past week, his attorney Brian Knowles said.

The circumstances surrounding the deaths of both men are particularly curious given the nature of the revelations they brought to light about Boeing’s flawed manufacturing practices. Both accused their employer of disregarding safety issues that could have wrought dire consequences for travelers.

Carol Parsons, Dean’s aunt, told reporters that he went to the hospital after falling ill. He was having trouble with his breathing. He later caught pneumonia, which led to a “serious bacterial infection.”

His condition deteriorated rapidly, and he was airlifted from Wichita to a hospital in Oklahoma City, Parsons said. There he was put on an ECMO machine, which circulates and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body, taking over heart and lung function when a patient’s organs don’t work on their own.

His mother posted a message Friday on Facebook relating all those details and saying that Dean was “fighting for his life.”

He was heavily sedated and put on dialysis. A CT scan indicated he had suffered a stroke, his mom’s post said.

By the end, doctors were considering amputating both hands and both feet. “It was brutal what he went through,” Parsons said. “Heartbreaking.”

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Boeing has been under intense scrutiny after a series of high-profile incidents and crashes related to manufacturing defects. This situation has become so prevalent that travelers are avoiding flights using their jets. Other whistleblowers have testified before Congress about the problems with the company’s manufacturing practices. This has been an ongoing issue, and Dean’s death will place even more attention on the matter.

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