A Boeing whistleblower fears for his safety after the sudden death of his colleagues: 'I'm always trying to make sure no one follows me'

Spirit AeroSystems' latest whistleblower has dismissed conspiracy theories about two other whistleblowers who died shortly after filing complaints about safety problems at Boeing suppliers, but admitted he remains vigilant about his own safety.

Santiago Paredes, 40, spoke exclusively with The independent just before attending the celebration of life for her former co-worker, friend and fellow whistleblower Joshua Dean, who died on April 30 at the age of 45 after battling a sudden illness. Dean's death came weeks after another Boeing whistleblower, John Barnett, committed suicide in March.

This week it was revealed that Barnett's suicide note included the lines “I pray Boeing pays” and “Whistleblower protection is screwed too!”

Santiago Paredes, left, shortly before the tribute to his friend and fellow Spirit AeroSystems whistleblower, Joshua Dean. (Sheila Flynn for The Independent)

When asked about wildfire rumors about whether something dire happened to the men after they spoke, Paredes said: “I don't believe it.

“But, you know, I'm always looking behind the mirror to make sure no car is following me,” he said.

“I'm not saying I'm afraid, but at the same time I can't turn a blind eye to the reality of what could be. I have to prepare for that.”

The Spirit AeroSystems sign is seen on July 25, 2013 in Wichita, Kansas. (Mike Hutmacher/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

Paredes spent more than a decade as an inspector and team leader at Boeing Spirit supplier AeroSystems before leaving in 2022 after issuing repeated warnings to his superiors about quality control failures, which at one point resulted in his demotion, says. Spirit AeroSystems (not to be confused with Spirit Airlines) manufactures aircraft components, including fuselages and wing parts, and Boeing is its largest customer.

The safety of Boeing's 737 Max 9 planes came under scrutiny after a door plug exploded in mid-air during an Alaska Airlines flight in January. The FAA grounded all 171 MAX 9 planes and instigated an investigation; Several whistleblowers have come forward to reveal their troubling experiences at Boeing and its manufacturing supplier Spirit AeroSystems.

Paredes had been friends with Dean, an auditor, who contacted him last year and asked for help with a shareholder lawsuit. Paredes agreed to participate anonymously, but went public with his claims earlier this month after Dean's death, revealing that he had been encouraged to downplay any defects he found when inspecting aircraft fuselages.

“I'm picking up where I left off and I have to continue and carry it out,” Paredes said. The independent.

Both men were represented by attorney Brian Knowles, who also represented Boeing whistleblower John Barnett, who was found dead by suicide in March.

After Dean's death, Paredes said, his lawyer “said he felt like we were in a battle and we were losing people.

“I was in a place where I started to get scared about what we were doing, even if it was the right thing to do,” Paredes said. “It's disheartening to lose people, not just friends, but friends who are with you in this battle.”

Paredes, a married father who now lives and works in Lawrence, Kansas, said he has been praying about the situation and feels strengthened by his family's support and prayers. His mother has been particularly worried, he said.

“My mom was scared,” he said Thursday, just as news broke that up to 450 AeroSystems employees in Wichita would be laid off. “I thought: 'Nothing is going to happen.' Everything will be fine. This is something I have to do…someone has to do it.'”

Paredes said he had also been encouraged by the outpouring of support from former co-workers and others within the industry, many of whom expressed their own fears and stories of quality failures.

Santiago Paredes in Wichita, Kansas (Sheila Flynn)

“It gives me hope. “I am very happy for the support I have received,” said Paredes. “I was ready for people to try to discredit me, to say bad things about me, but I didn't worry too much, because I know that I have impacted a lot of people who work there, and I have encouraged a lot of people who work there.”

He said he hoped the efforts of Barnett, Dean, himself and other whistleblowers would lead to changes and improvements in security.

“What I hope happens next is… that they just be honest,” he said of his former employers. “Look, the first step to improving something is to admit every mistake. Once you admit everything you've done and highlight where the things that are wrong are wrong, you can change it.

“But right now you're so busy trying to hide it that you can't correct it, because if you correct it, it will highlight that you were actually wrong.”

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