Passing of Whistleblower Joshua Dean, Former Employee of Boeing Supplier Spirit AeroSystems

Passing of Whistleblower Joshua Dean, Former Employee of Boeing Supplier Spirit AeroSystems

Joshua Dean, a former quality auditor employed by Spirit AeroSystems, a Boeing supplier, and one of the initial whistleblowers who brought attention to alleged manufacturing flaws on the 737 MAX, passed away on Tuesday morning following a battle with a sudden and rapidly spreading infection.

Known affectionately as Josh, Dean resided in Wichita, Kansas, where Spirit AeroSystems is headquartered. At the age of 45, he was known for leading a healthy lifestyle and had been in good health until his untimely passing.

According to his aunt Carol Parsons, Dean spent two weeks in critical condition before succumbing to the infection.

Joe Buccino, a spokesperson for Spirit AeroSystems, expressed condolences, stating, “Our hearts go out to Josh Dean’s family. His unexpected passing has deeply impacted our community and those close to him.”

Dean had previously provided a deposition in a lawsuit brought by Spirit shareholders and had also lodged a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration, alleging serious misconduct by senior management in the 737 production line at Spirit.

In April 2023, Spirit terminated Dean’s employment, prompting him to file a complaint with the Department of Labor, alleging that his dismissal was in retaliation for raising concerns about aviation safety.

Parsons recounted how Dean fell ill and sought medical attention due to breathing difficulties just over two weeks ago. He was admitted to the hospital, where he required intubation and subsequently developed pneumonia followed by a severe bacterial infection known as MRSA.

His health rapidly declined, leading to his transfer via airlift from Wichita to a hospital in Oklahoma City, as explained by Parsons. There, medical professionals initiated treatment with an ECMO machine, a device that supports heart and lung function by oxygenating the blood outside the body when the patient’s organs are unable to perform adequately.

Dean’s mother shared updates on his condition via Facebook last Friday, detailing his ongoing battle for survival.

Throughout his hospitalization, Dean remained heavily sedated and underwent dialysis. Unfortunately, a CT scan revealed that he had suffered a stroke, as mentioned in his mother’s social media post.

Towards the end, medical professionals contemplated the possibility of amputating both his hands and feet. Parsons described the ordeal as incredibly difficult and heartbreaking for Dean and his loved ones.

Dean was represented by a legal team based in South Carolina, which also represented Boeing whistleblower John “Mitch” Barnett.

Tragically, Barnett was discovered deceased in what appeared to be a suicide in March. He was in the process of providing depositions, alleging retaliation from Boeing due to his complaints regarding quality issues when he was found dead from a gunshot wound in Charleston, S.C., where Boeing operates its 787 manufacturing facility.

The Charleston County Coroner’s Office stated that Barnett’s death seemed to be the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Despite nearly two months passing since the incident, the police investigation into his death is still ongoing.

Brian Knowles, one of Dean’s attorneys, declined to speculate on the proximity and circumstances of the two deaths.

“Whistleblowers play a crucial role. They expose wrongdoing and corruption for the greater good of society. It requires immense bravery to speak out,” Knowles remarked. “It’s a challenging situation. Our current focus is on supporting John’s and Josh’s families.”

Dean, who held a mechanical engineering background, commenced his employment at Spirit in 2019. He was laid off in the subsequent year due to pandemic-related workforce reductions but returned to Spirit in May 2021, this time serving as a quality auditor.

In October 2022, Dean uncovered a significant manufacturing issue: mechanics were incorrectly drilling holes in the aft pressure bulkhead of the MAX aircraft. Despite bringing this matter to the attention of management, no action was taken.

While focused on addressing these defects, Dean inadvertently overlooked a separate manufacturing flaw during the same audit. This flaw involved the fittings that connect the vertical tail fin to the fuselage. It wasn’t until April that this issue was discovered, leading to a temporary halt in deliveries at Boeing’s Renton plant. Subsequently, Dean was terminated from his position.

Then, in August, Spirit AeroSystems disclosed the discovery of improperly drilled holes in the MAX’s aft pressure bulkhead, a defect that had been present in MAX aircraft built as early as 2019. This revelation prompted another pause in deliveries at the Renton facility.

Following that discovery, Dean lodged a safety complaint with the FAA, accusing Spirit of using him as a scapegoat and providing false information to the FAA regarding the aft pressure bulkhead defects.

In his complaint, Dean asserted that Spirit initially failed to disclose their knowledge of the aft pressure bulkhead defects to the FAA and the public after his termination.

In November, the FAA responded to Dean’s concerns with a letter indicating that they had conducted an investigation into the safety issues he had raised. While the letter did not divulge specific details, it suggested that Dean’s allegations had merit.

Simultaneously, Dean pursued an aviation whistleblower complaint with the Department of Labor, alleging wrongful termination and misconduct by senior management at Spirit AeroSystems. This case remained unresolved.

After leaving Spirit, Dean briefly worked at Boeing Wichita before transitioning to another company.

In December, a shareholder lawsuit was filed, alleging that Spirit management had withheld information regarding quality flaws, resulting in harm to stockholders. Dean contributed to the lawsuit by providing a deposition outlining his allegations.

In January, when a panel detached from a Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, drawing renewed attention to quality issues at Spirit, one of Dean’s former colleagues at Spirit corroborated some of his claims.