Inside Boeing's very bad week: Whistleblowers, nosedives and a DOJ investigation.

The logo for Boeing
Richard Drew/AP

The Boeing Company has dominated headlines this week with a slew of issues regarding its planes and Charleston County police finding a former employee turned whistleblower, John Barnett, had died by suicide.

The company, which is among the largest multinational aerospace manufacturers, has been the subject of growing controversy in recent years after two Boeing 737 MAX planes crashed in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, the House of Representatives concluded an investigation into the company which found that Boeing dismissed employee concerns, prioritized deadlines and budget restraints over safety and failed to be transparent with the Federal Aviation Administration.

In 2022, Netflix produced a documentary, Downfall: The Case Against Boeing, that further fueled public distrust of the brand.

Years later, a series of recent negative news stories have renewed scrutiny and given rise to accusations that Boeing hasn’t resolved any of the issues brought to light by the 2018 and 2019 crashes.

Why have I heard so much about Boeing recently?

Since the beginning of 2024, there have been several major safety incidents involving Boeing planes.

In January, a door plug on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 blew out at 16,000 feet, leaving a door-sized hole in the aircraft — a Boeing 737 MAX 9 jetliner. The FAA subsequently grounded all 737 MAX 9s, totaling 171 planes, and announced on Jan. 12 that it would be conducting an audit of Boeing’s production and manufacturing.

The gaping hole where a paneled-over door had been at the fuselage plug area of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282
The gaping hole where a paneled-over door had been at the fuselage plug area of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282. (National Transportation Safety Board via AP)

What has happened with Boeing this week?

Saturday, March 9

A prominent Boeing whistleblower was found dead in Charleston, N.C.

Barnett, 62, was a former quality manager at Boeing who had raised concerns over the company’s manufacturing practices. He was in Charleston for a deposition for a lawsuit in which he alleged Boeing was retaliating against him for voicing his complaints.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the Justice Department announced it has opened a criminal investigation into Alaska Airlines Flight 1282.

Monday, March 11

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner nosedived during a flight from Sydney to Auckland, injuring at least 50 people. On March 15, the Wall Street Journal reported that industry officials claimed a flight attendant had “hit a seat switch that pushed pilot into controls during the flight” causing the nosedive. A Boeing memo about the incident addressed that this was a known issue and asked operators to inspect cockpit seat switches.

The same day, a United Airlines San Francisco-bound flight from Sydney was forced to turn around due to a maintenance issue. The plane was a Boeing 777.

This happened one week after United Airlines Flight Boeing 777-200 lost a wheel during takeoff in San Francisco and a Boeing 737 skidded off the runway after landing in Houston.

Wednesday, March 13

Another Boeing 777 was forced to make an emergency landing at Los Angeles International Airport when pilots reported “a flat tire” after taking off from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. American Airlines said the plane landed without incident and passengers deplaned normally.

Also on Wednesday, the National Transportation Safety Board published a letter to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation accusing Boeing of overwriting security footage of the repair work done on the door plug of the Alaska Airlines flight that failed in January. The NTSB said the missing footage prevented them from being able to see who “fixed” and reinstalled the door plug on the aircraft.

Friday, March 15

A Boeing 737 that took off from San Francisco was found to be missing a panel during a post-flight inspection shortly after arriving at its destination in Oregon. There were no incidents on the flight and nobody was injured, but the FAA said it would conduct an investigation.

What else do we know about the Boeing whistleblower?

Charleston County police said Barnett had died by suicide. Barnett had worked for Boeing for more than 30 years before retiring in 2017.

He spoke to the BBC in 2019 claiming he had uncovered serious problems with the oxygen systems on Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. He also alleged that some parts that were meant to be discarded were instead fitted to planes to avoid production delays. Boeing denied Barnett’s allegations.

Barnett then filed legal action against Boeing, claiming that the company denigrated his character and hampered his career because of the issues he had pointed out to his superiors. Boeing rejected the charges.

Barnett had been questioned by Boeing lawyers the week before his death in a formal deposition related to the case.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.