The Boeing 777 Controversy: Freak Accidents and a Whistleblower’s Silence

plane taking off runway at sunset
plane taking off runway at sunset

Are you starting to sweat a little bit when you board a Boeing 777? You’re not alone. The recent Boeing 777 controversy and other incidents involving this once-reliable aircraft have passengers clutching their armrests and eyeing the emergency exits.

This story takes a nosedive into the truly unsettling.  A whistleblower, who just before his untimely demise raised critical safety concerns about the 777, has been silenced.  Coincidence, or something more sinister? We’re diving deep into the heart of this aviation crisis to learn what exactly happened. What did the whistleblower allege?  And most importantly, can we still trust the Boeing 777 to get us safely to our destination?

Fasten your seatbelts and join us as we break down this unfolding drama, separate fact from fiction, and determine if the skies remain friendly for the Boeing 777.

READ MORE: Is the Boeing 77 Safe? How The Freak Accident Could Impact Your Travel?

READ MORE: What Major Airlines Use Boeing Aircrafts?

Who Is John Barrnett?

John Barnett, the 62-year-old male who had reported safety issues at Boeing, passed away on Saturday from what seemed to be a self-inflicted wound, according to the South Carolina coroner.

Barnett, who went by “Mitch” with his family and “Swampy” with his friends, spent 32 years as a quality officer for Boeing, the world’s largest airplane manufacturer, before retiring in 2017, according to the BBC. He was employed as a quality supervisor at the North Charleston plant of the airplane company from 2010 until 2017. The 787 Dreamliner, which has become the focus of numerous whistleblower concerns, was produced at this factory.

What Was The Whistleblower Saying?

Several former Boeing employees were interviewed by The New York Times in 2019 regarding their safety concerns. Barnett informed the newspaper that the wiring connecting the flying controls might be severed by metal shavings, which are produced when fasteners made of metal are inserted into nuts.

He had been supplying information in a whistleblower case against the corporation, according to the BBC, who broke the story of his passing. Thereafter he also informed BBC that he had discovered significant issues with the oxygen systems aboard the lengthy aircraft.

Although none of the faulty oxygen bottles were deployed, Boeing claimed to have “detected a few oxygen bottles that were sent by the supplier that had trouble deploying properly.” Barnett further claimed that to prevent production delays, inferior parts that were supposed to be thrown away were installed on aircraft, and that, in the case of an unexpected decompression, passengers aboard the 787 Dreamliner might not have access to oxygen.

He thought that the hurry to produce new planes meant that passenger safety was being jeopardized. Barnett informed the BBC he had raised his concerns with managers, but they had done nothing about it. There is a “disconnect” between senior management and employees at Boeing, and there are fears of punishment, according to a panel of specialists who recently blasted Boeing’s safety culture to the Federal Aviation Administration.

In 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration gave Boeing an order to remove the Dreamliners’ shavings. Boeing stated at the time that it was not a flight safety problem, but that it was complying with the judgment and will try to enhance the nut’s design.

“I haven’t seen a plane leaving Charleston that I would put my name on confirming it’s safe and airworthy,” Barnett, however, stated to the Times. Barnett reported the incidents up at the company’s South Carolina plant to federal regulators as a whistleblower when he retired in 2017. In a different court case, he sued Boeing, claiming the company had damaged his reputation and harmed his career. Boeing refuted the accusations.

Similar to one of Barnett’s claims, a 2017 examination within the Federal Aviation Administration found that a minimum of 53 “non-conforming” pieces inside the North Charleston factory were not known whereabouts, and it mandated that the airline take corrective action.

What Happened To John Barnett?

For most of his career, Barnett was passionate about what he did, but in Charleston, according to the BBC statement, “he realized that upper management had urged the quality officials and supervisors to cut corners” and disregard the legally mandated safety procedures.

He claimed employees were under pressure not to record errors because doing so would cause the production line to sluggishly proceed. The family stated, “John told us that each day was a struggle to get the administration to act on the right thing.” According to the family, “John’s doctor warned him he could have a cardiac arrest if he stayed because it caused him so much stress.” Barnett traveled to Charleston earlier in the week to provide an official deposition about a defamation claim he had brought against Boeing.

He was supposed to show up on Saturday for more interrogation, but he did not. According to the BBC, he was discovered deceased in his truck outside the hotel’s parking area. Boeing expressed their sadness at Mr. Barnett’s passing and their “concerns were with the Barnett family and friends” in a statement provided to CBS News.

Unfortunately, the condolence message delivered by the aircraft did not receive a lot of applause. Barnett “was a courageous, honorable man of the highest integrity,” according to a joint statement from his attorneys, Robert Turkewitz and Brian Knowles, to CBS News.

“He had deep affection for his friends, family, coworkers at Boeing, the company, and pilots and other aviation personnel. John was in the middle of giving his deposition in the finally coming to a close whistleblower retaliation lawsuit. He seemed to be in a very positive frame of mind and was eager to move on from this period of his life. There was no sign that he might commit suicide. Nobody believes it.” the lawyers continued.

“Everyone is devastated. We require additional information regarding John’s circumstances. The Charleston police must conduct a thorough and accurate investigation and report their findings to the public. There cannot be any overlooked detail.”

The Family’s Accusations and Conspiracy

Death is painful and losing a loved one unexpectedly can feel like the end of the world. This is true for the Barnett’s family, who have relayed their suspicions and fear of the circumstances surrounding his demise. They stated that he experienced anxiety attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder, and his death was caused by the “hostile work environment at Boeing.”

The family statement reported that the case was scheduled for trial in June and that the deceased was eager to appear in court and believed that the experience would compel Boeing to alter its corporate culture. An inquiry for Boeing’s response to the claims made in the family statement was not welcomed.

What Is Going On With Boeing?

Not only has Boeing manufactured other defective aircraft, but the company has also come under fire for several more recent occurrences. What authorities referred to as a “strong tremor” on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner on Monday caused at least 50 injuries when it was flying through Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand.

Even as recently as 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) got about a dozen whistleblower complaints concerning the 787 Dreamliner, voicing concerns about the Dreamliner’s manufacture at the Boeing facility in South Carolina. However, the airline claims “Safety and quality remain at the root of Boeing’s values,” adding that the investigation “presents a flawed and false image” of the 787 aircraft with “distorted details, recycling of past tales and rumors.”

The New York Times was the first to report on the concerns, which include claims of discovering tools or rubbish inside newly purchased aircraft as well as pressure on staff to prioritize speed over safety. “It doesn’t seem like the business is prioritizing quality. According to Rich Mester, a past Boeing mechanic who talked to the Times, “It’s production for profit.” Last year, he was let go.

Mester stated, “I discovered bottles of sealant and nuts,” alluding to a particular kind of cable ties. “Clamps were found. The aft part of the aircraft had a bunch of lights, which they identified as work lights.” An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max was forced to make an emergency landing in January when a door stopper fell off the aircraft shortly after takeoff from Portland, Oregon.

According to an early National Transportation Safety Board study, four important fasteners were missing. Both the Justice Department and the Federal Aviation Administration are looking into the event. A United Airlines Boeing 777 aircraft that was heading from San Francisco to Japan earlier this month had a forced landing at Los Angeles International Airport following one of the plane’s tyres failing soon after takeoff.

On Monday, a different United Airlines flight that was headed from Australia to San Francisco had to head back to Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport due to an unidentified “maintenance issue”. It turned out to be a Boeing 777-300. As of the end of 2023, there had been thirty aircraft mishaps involving the 777, five of which resulted in hull losses out of a total of eight, 541 of which resulted in fatalities, including one on the ground.

Where Does Boeing Stand Now?

The future of the 777 is still unknown until further research clarifies the incidents and the whistleblower’s claims. It’s not just about one plane; it’s about winning back the public’s confidence and guaranteeing the safety of the millions of people who fly every day. The entire aviation industry is waiting impatiently to see if the inquiry will clear the Boeing 777 and allow it to resume its successful flight, or if the aircraft will remain permanently grounded due to unresolved issues.