The Worrisome Death of a Second Boeing Airliner Quality Critic

May 1, 2024 / 4 Comments

Joshua Dean, a 45-year-old safety auditor at the plant assembling Boeing 737 Max fuselages, died unexpectedly in Wichita on April 30th. He was stricken with an illness that came on quickly and defied treatment. His lawyer, Brian Knowles, said until his hospitalization two weeks ago, Dean was in robust health.

“He would take care of himself, go to the gym, do yoga, eat right, drink protein shakes,” Knowles told me, adding, “He had like four undergraduate degrees. He had considered at one time, going to medical school and was really smart.”

A mechanical engineer, Dean worked in Wichita since 2019 for Spirit Aerosystems, a key Boeing subcontractor. His is the second death in as many months of an insider criticizing production quality on Boeing airliners.

On March 9, 63-year-old John Barnett, who Knowles and attorney Robert Turkowitz also represented, was found dead in his pickup truck in the parking lot of a hotel in Charleston, South Carolina. Barnett had been shot and the local coroner said it appeared he’d killed himself though no official determination of the cause of death has been released.

Barnett was in South Carolina for three days of depositions in a case he brought against Boeing in 2017. Like Dean, Barnett claimed he faced retaliation for raising safety concerns. Barnett, however, worked for Boeing directly at the 787 Dreamliner factory.

“It’s an absolute tragedy when a whistle-blower ends up dying under strange circumstances. It should be of concern to everybody,” Turkowitz said of Dean’s death. “I would say it needs to be fully investigated like Barnett’s case needs to be fully investigated.”

Neither attorney would speculate on the closely timed deaths of their clients. But a number of people, who claim they’ve witnessed unsafe and sometimes illegal practices at Boeing have reported being threatened, harassed, ridiculed, fired and yes, sickened.

Gigi Prewitt reported manufacturing problems at the same Wichita factory where Dean worked but years earlier when Boeing still owned it in the late nineties.  And while many years separate their claims, their cases are similar in notable ways.Both Prewitt and Dean said some tools used to fabricate parts and create aligned fastener holes were defective. Prewitt’s were those used for the 737 NG and Dean’s for producing the 737 Max. The accounts of both were verified. Both lost their jobs after pointing out safety issues.

Prewitt claimed in a lawsuit later dismissed that she and others working with her were threatened with being shot and were mysteriously sickened with Stachybotrys also known as black mold. Her husband, Jerry said during the time the case was pending their life was like living in “a bad James Bond movie.” The family watchwords were “Be careful, these people aren’t playing,” according to Jerry.

Gigi said telling the truth about what happened made her sound crazy. A decade after her case ended, Gigi is still what others might call inordinately security conscious a situation that is unlikely to subside following news of a second Boeing whistle-blower death.

For Brian Knowles that should worry everyone who flies.

“What we don’t want to happen is the deterrence of whistle-blowers. You know whistle-blowers play an important role in the safety of society. They bring to light issues that can protect society.

Since the third 737 Max event on January 5th, the one in which a door came off an Alaska Airlines plane departing Portland, Oregon, Boeing’s commercial airline business has been the subject of intense attention, from the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, Congressional investigations, the media and consumers.

Optimists might argue there’s never been a better time for those with inside information about what’s really going on at Boeing to share what they know. Pessimists, (or are they realists?) can be excused if they disagree.

Examining Boeing’s Broken Safety Culture: Firsthand Accounts




Categories: Flying Lessons

4 responses to “The Worrisome Death of a Second Boeing Airliner Quality Critic”

  1. John McDonald says:

    Holy crap.

  2. Rod Miller says:

    One remembers Gigi Prewitt from the Al Jazeera doc on the 737NG.
    If these deaths did Not occur by Boeing’s hand then they’re mighty coincidental, ain’t they?
    Like Watergate, things don’t look too bad at first; then that snowball starts to roll. One can well imagine Boeing is starting to panic a trifle. Panic doesn’t make for sound decisions.

  3. will rondeau says:

    If Boeing is truthfully going to this level to eliminate or harass their X-employees who are in the interest of safety attempting to get Boeing to change the method they have lowered themselves to become only PROFIT orientated. Then Boeing must know what they are trying to hide, to save their own reputations.
    Boeing must find the way to return to its original methods of building the world’s best flying machines, prior to the merger with McDonnel/Douglas.
    I flew Boeings for many years at several airlines and they were great aircraft!

  4. Marv says:

    Interesting choice to not mention Dean worked for Spirit Aerosystems until paragraph three, under the 2nd picture, oe again in the article.

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