Another Boeing-linked whistleblower dies suddenly

Joshua Dean, 45, of Wichita, Kansas, worked as a quality auditor at Spirit AeroSystems’ flagship manufacturing site, which supplies Boeing with various plane parts — including the
door plug that popped off an
Alaska Airlines 737 MAX flight, forcing a rough landing in January. Dean, who held a degree in mechanical engineering and had decades of experience, was among the first whistleblowers to claim that Spirit had turned a blind eye to defects on the controversial airliner.

Dean died suddenly Tuesday — several weeks after Boeing whistleblower John Barnett supposedly killed himself in a truck outside his South Carolina hotel amidst depositions in Charleston. Police are still investigating Barnett’s death.

Barnett and Dean were both represented by the same South Carolina-based law firm, and both raised awareness about quality control issues in the Boeing supply chain.


According to the Seattle Times, Dean was fired in April 2023 for allegedly bungling inspections, leading to the shipment of defective tail fin fittings to Boeing. Dean alternatively maintained that he had been canned in retaliation for having repeatedly flagged errors he observed on the factory floor — errors he suggested Spirit supervisors had ignored. He indicated as much in his November 2023 wrongful termination complaint to the Department of Labor.

A former co-worker, Lance Thompson, told the Times that Dean frustrated the mechanics on the factory floor precisely because of his attention to detail.

“There was value in what he did, and he found some things you might not expect to,” said Thompson. Dean “caught ’em because he was standing over their shoulder watching them, and nobody else was.”

Investors brought a federal class action lawsuit in January against Spirit, claiming they suffered financial damage after the company’s stock took a nosedive over the quality control scandal. The company’s former CEO, Tom Gentile, who resigned in October, and the company’s CFO, Mark Suchinski, were named co-defendants in the suit.

The complaint stated that “constant quality failures resulted in part from Spirit’s culture which prioritized production numbers and short-term financial outcomes over product quality,”
reported the Wichita Eagle.

lawsuit contained Dean’s allegations against Spirit, including the claim that he was threatened when he attempted to draw his superiors’ attention to defects.

According to the suit, Dean identified improperly drilled holes on a 737 MAX aft pressure bunkhead in 2022. This was especially troubling because that plane component helps maintain pressure during flight. Dean submitted a written report to his manager about the issue and alerted other supervisors. The defect was, however, apparently hidden from Boeing and investors
until August, some ten months later.

The complaint alleged that Dean was fired over his continued efforts to highlight such defects.

Thompson said, “They went after him and fired him to make it look like we had one crazy guy who’s to blame.”

Dean indicated in his deposition that Spirit had effectively been gutted by the pandemic, such that a great many experienced workers left or were laid off. In fact, Dean was laid off during cutbacks in 2020 but brought back the next year in a different role.

According to the whistleblower, the turnover resulted “in more rework and repairs that had to be performed” on account of a deterioration in the quality of the work.

These problems were allegedly compounded by the company’s “culture of not wanting to look for or to find problems.”

“We strongly disagree with the assertions made by the plaintiffs,” a Spirit spokesman said of the lawsuit.

told the Wall Street Journal in January, “It is known at Spirit that if you make too much noise and cause too much trouble, you will be moved.”

“It doesn’t mean you completely disregard stuff, but they don’t want you to find everything and write it up,” he added.

Sudden death

Dean reportedly succumbed Tuesday morning to a sudden and fast-spreading infection.

His aunt, Carol Parsons, told the Seattle Times that two weeks prior to his death, Dean had taken ill and went to the hospital with breathing troubles. Things reportedly got much worse at the hospital, where he was intubated, then developed pneumonia. Soon he was plagued by MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria.

Dean’s condition quickly deteriorated. He was flown from Wichita to a hospital in Oklahoma City, according to his aunt. In Oklahoma City, he was placed on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine that resupplies oxygen-filled blood to the body. The Times indicated further that doctors had him sedated, then put on dialysis. A CT scan later revealed he had also suffered a stroke.

“It was brutal what he went through,” said Parsons. “Heartbreaking.”

Before he died, doctors had even considered amputating his infection-blackened hands and feet.

The New York Post
indicated that both doctors and family members were astonished by the destructive and fast-acting illness.

“He is in the worst condition I have ever known or heard of,” his sister-in-law Kristen Dean wrote on Facebook. “Even the hospital agrees.

The whistleblower’s family indicated Sunday night that he was “giving up his fight” and “refusing to let them do any life saving procedures,”
reported Time.

However, his mother indicated that she “told the doctor he doesn’t know what he wants, I’m sure he wants to live, he’s afraid, scared and depressed.”

Brian Knowles, the lawyer who represented both deceased Boeing whistleblowers, told Time, “Josh’s passing is a loss to the aviation community and the flying public.”

“He possessed tremendous courage to stand up for what he felt was true and right and raised quality and safety issues,” added Knowles.

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