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Whistleblower at key Boeing supplier dies after sudden illness

Breaking down Boeing whistleblower testimony
Breaking down the Boeing whistleblower testimony 03:32

A whistleblower who identified engineering problems at the company that supplied Boeing with airliner fuselages died on Monday, CBS News has learned, after suffering from a fast-spreading infection. 

Joshua Dean was a quality inspector at Spirit AeroSystems, which builds the bulk of the 737 Max for Boeing. Dean raised concerns in October 2022 about misdrilled holes on a rear section of the plane that is necessary to maintain cabin pressure during flight. 

Attorneys for Dean confirmed his death. He was 45. 

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Josh and his family," said attorneys Brian Knowles and Rob Turkewitz in a statement. "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. Aviation companies should encourage and incentivize those that do raise these concerns. Otherwise, safety and quality are truly not these companies' top priorities."

Boeing Spirit AeroSystems
In this photo taken with a fish-eye lens, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 airplane sits on the assembly line during a brief media tour in Boeing's 737 assembly facility in Renton, Wash., March 27, 2019.  Ted S. Warren / AP

Boeing acknowledged the misdrilled holes in August 2023, writing in a statement that while it was "not an immediate safety issue," the company would need to re-inspect and repair affected airplanes, delaying deliveries to airlines. The announcement caused Spirit's stock to drop more than 10% the following day.

Dean worked at Spirit from 2019, was laid off temporarily during the pandemic and returned until the company terminated him in April 2023.

Ongoing investigations by the FAA and NTSB suggest Spirit—originally spun off from Boeing—oversaw repairs to the door of the Alaska Airlines jet prior to the blow out. The quality control issues at Spirit deteriorated so much that Boeing is currently in talks to reacquire the company so it can improve its oversight of the troubled supplier. 

Prior to his death, Dean told CBS News he had been retaliated against for raising quality concerns.

"The enemy here is the culture of Spirit AeroSystems quality management and Boeing knows it," said Dean, who also filed a safety complaint with the FAA about the misdrilled holes and a complaint with the Department of Labor alleging retaliation.

In December, Spirit shareholders filed suit against the company alleging the company failed to disclose "severe and persistent" quality issues to investors. Dean provided a deposition in the suit, though he was not a plaintiff.

The Seattle Times first reported Dean's death. Dean's aunt told the publication that her nephew went to the hospital for breathing issues a few weeks ago, developed pneumonia, and then suffered a serious bacterial infection. 

Dean's death comes weeks after another Boeing whistleblower, John Barnett, a former quality manager for the company, died in what the coroner said was apparent suicide. Barnett was in Charleston, South Carolina, at the time of his death, giving testimony about the factory that builds the 787 Dreamliner. He resigned from the company in 2017, citing job-related stress.

In the 2022 Netflix documentary "Downfall: The Case Against Boeing," Barnett claimed his managers retaliated against him for speaking up. Boeing said it addressed the issues he had raised before he left the company. 

In March, John Barnett's family spoke to CBS News. When asked if they place some of the blame for his death on Boeing, his mother Vicky Stokes said "if this hadn't gone on so long, I'd still have my son, and my sons would have their brother and we wouldn't be sitting here. So in that respect, I do."

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