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‘I was told, frankly, to shut up,’ Boeing whistleblower tells Senate

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A Boeing engineer turned whistleblower told senators Wednesday that the company repeatedly sidelined and threatened him when he raised safety concerns about their aircraft, saying: “I was told, frankly, to shut up.”

Sam Salehpour, who is still employed by the company, said he even faced physical threats after raising concerns.

“My boss said, ‘I would have killed someone who said what you said in a meeting,’” he told the Senate Homeland Security Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Salehpour, who first told his story to the New York Times, testified as a whistleblower after he said the company dismissed his concerns for more than three years.

“I was ignored, I was told not to create delays, I was told, frankly, to shut up,” Salehpour said, comparing the company’s safety culture to NASA before the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

“The attitude from the highest level is just to push out a definitive part, regardless of what it is,” he said.

Boeing declined to comment on Salehpour’s remarks, but it has repeatedly expressed that its regulatory protocols encourage all employees to speak up when issues arise, saying that “retaliation is strictly prohibited at Boeing.”

Boeing has been under intense scrutiny for its manufacturing practices since a door panel blew off a Boeing 737 MAX airplane over Oregon in January. Salehpour worked on two different planes, the Boeing 787 and 777, but senators called the hearing on company-wide safety culture.

Ed Pierson, a former Boeing engineer who is now executive director of the Foundation for Aviation Safety, also said that records of who installed the door plug, which federal safety investigators have been unable to obtain from Boeing, do in fact exist, and accused Boeing of engaging in a “criminal cover-up.”

Jennifer Homendy, the head of the independent National Transportation Safety Board which is investigating the Alaska Airlines door plug incident, said last month that Boeing refused to provide records about who specifically installed the door panel, and she reiterated last week that she was still waiting. Homendy told lawmakers last month that Boeing CEO David Calhoun told her that the company “has no records of the work being performed.”

But Pierson said an internal whistleblower provided those documents to him and he had in turn given them to the FBI.

“The records do in fact exist,” Pierson said. “I know this because I personally passed them to the FBI.”

The FBI did not respond to a request for comment. Boeing declined to comment on Pierson’s testimony.

Among Salehpour’s accusations involve shoddy seal work on the 787 Dreamliner, which he repeatedly raised to management, after which he was transferred to another plane model, the 777 — where he found even more problems.

Salehpour said that he found Boeing failed to properly fill gaps in the body of the 787, a process called shimming, 98.7 percent of the time. He also said debris ended up in those gaps 80 percent of the time.

On the Boeing 777, Salehpour said he witnessed workers jumping on pieces of the plane to make them fit together, a process he called the “Tarzan effect.” These issues could result in the body of the planes weakening over time, he testified.

“I’m here today because I felt that I must come forward because I do not want to see another 787 or 777 crash,” Salehpour said.

Oriana Pawlyk contributed to this report.