Another Boeing whistleblower is dead—this time a healthy 45-year-old who battled a sudden, severe infection

A Boeing whistleblower who warned about manufacturing defects in the 737 Max line of planes before being fired in 2023 died on Tuesday after contracting a fast-spreading infection.

Joshua Dean, 45, reported having trouble breathing a little more than two weeks ago and was taken to the hospital where he developed pneumonia and the antibiotic-resistant infection called MRSA, leading to his death, the Seattle Times first reported. The mechanical engineer and former quality auditor at Boeing supplier Spirit AeroSystems, which makes the fuselage of the beleaguered 737 Max, was in good health and was known for living a healthy lifestyle prior to his illness, his aunt told the Times.

Dean was one of the first whistleblowers to sound the alarm about quality issues at Boeing’s key supplier. In a December lawsuit against Spirit AeroSystems, which alleges that the company’s management made false or misleading claims when they said they were dedicated to safety and defect-free manufacturing, Dean described how he reported a problem with the aft pressure bulkhead on the Boeing 737, a critical piece of the plane’s infrastructure, to several managers in different departments but was ignored. Later, news emerged that Spirit employees misdrilled holes on parts of some 737 Max planes—including the aft pressure bulkhead Dean had warned about.

Dean also filed a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration alleging “serious and gross misconduct” by the quality management team that worked on the 737 Max production line. After his termination in April 2023, Dean filed a complaint with the Department of Labor as well, alleging that he was fired for raising concerns about the safety of Boeing’s aircraft.

Dean told the Wall Street Journal in January that planes were leaving the Wichita factory where he’d worked with undetected defects, owing to a culture in which workers were constantly rushed to meet unrealistic deadlines—and where finding flaws was either discouraged or worse.

“It is known at Spirit that if you make too much noise and cause too much trouble, you will be moved,” he said. “They don’t want you to find everything and write it up.”

The quality auditor even described how Spirit threw a pizza party for employees to celebrate falling defect numbers in their aircraft parts, but many knew that the figures had fallen only because people were afraid to report problems.

Yet another untimely whistleblower death

Dean is the second Boeing whistleblower to die suddenly this year, following John Barnett, 62, who reportedly died from a “self-inflicted gunshot wound” in March.

Barnett worked as a quality manager at Boeing for 32 years until he retired in 2017. Just hours before he died, the veteran quality manager was supplying evidence for a whistleblower lawsuit that alleged one in four oxygen masks on Boeing planes could be faulty. Barnett described a litany of issues in testimony before the Department of Labor’s Office of Administrative Law Judges, seeking damages for lost pay, emotional distress, and harassment. He alleged a production-first, quality-second culture; inexperienced quality managers who “would just wing it”; and pressure to sign off on inspections for parts that weren’t completed in order to keep the assembly line moving.

These two whistleblowers haven’t been the only thorns in the side of Boeing amid the many issues with its Max line of planes. Sam Salehpour, a quality engineer who worked at Boeing for over 30 years, recently testified at a Senate hearing on Boeing’s safety culture that the company retaliated against him for raising safety concerns about some aircraft parts. “I was ignored. I was told not to create delays,” he said. “I was told, frankly, to shut up.”

Salehpour even alleged that after he brought up safety issues in a meeting with senior executives, his boss said: “I would have killed someone who said what you said in a meeting.”

“This is not a safety culture when you get threatened for bringing [up] issues of safety concerns,” Salehpour noted.

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