Jessi Combs dead at 39 after crash trying to set new record in Alvord Desert

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Thursday, August 29, 2019
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Television personality and professional driver Jessi Combs died Tuesday trying to break a land speed record in a jet car, according to local authorities in Harney County, Oregon.

BURNS, Ore. -- Television personality and professional driver Jessi Combs died Tuesday in Oregon trying to break a land speed record in a jet car, according to local authorities. She was 39.

The Harney County Sheriff's Office said it was called to a scene of a fatal crash in the Alvord Desert about 90 miles south of Burns, Oregon, around 4 p.m. local time on Tuesday, Aug. 27. Combs, of Long Beach, California, was identified as the sole fatality connected to the accident.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation. According to Combs' family, the fatal crash occurred in a dry lake bed in the North American Eagle jet car. Jet cars are race cars propelled by jet engines.

Combs was widely known in the niche sport of jet-car racing and was attempting to break the Women's Land Speed Record of 512 mph set in 1976 by Kitty O'Neil when she died. Combs wrote on Instagram on Sunday: "People say I'm crazy. I say thank you."

She holds the record as the fastest woman on four wheels - O'Neil piloted a three-wheeled vehicle - for a 398 mph performance in 2013 and had driven even faster in follow-up runs, but mechanical problems prevented those from making the record books.

Combs' family said in a statement to ABC News: "Jessi's bright smile, positivity, and tenacious pursuit of her dreams inspired everyone who met her. Her drive and spirit were infectious, and she served as a role model for young girls and women around the world. People that loved her and followed her became family, all bonded together by adventure and passion. Her fans adored her, and she lived to inspire them. Jessi's most notable dream was to become the fastest woman on Earth, a dream she had been chasing since 2012. Combs was one of the rare dreamers with the bravery to turn those possibilities into reality, and she left this earth driving faster than any other woman in history."

The family said Combs was "surrounded by her family and friends at the time of her passing" and added that a celebration of life is in the works. They also plan to establish a foundation in Combs' name to "continue her efforts to empower women and young girls to follow their dreams."

Combs was also known for appearances on Discovery's "Mythbusters" and "Break Room" as well as "Overhaulin'" and "All Girls Garage" on Velocity.

"The Discovery and MotorTrend Family is deeply saddened to learn of the tragic passing of Jessi Combs. She was a friend and colleague, an icon in the industry, and an undeniable force of nature who left an indelible mark on the car world. Our thoughts are with her family and loved ones," Discovery said in a statement.

Terry Madden, a member of Combs' team, penned an emotional Instagram tribute to Combs after news of her death broke. He wrote in part: "I have never loved or been loved by anyone as much as this amazing woman @thejessicombs she was truly my unicorn and I enjoyed every single minute that I had with her. She was the most amazing spirit that I have ever or will ever know."

On Twitter, "Mythbusters" host Adam Savage remembered Combs as "a brilliant & [top-notch] builder, engineer, driver, fabricator, and science communicator, & strove everyday to encourage others by her prodigious example. "

Kari Byron, also of "Mythbusters," said Combs was "always pushing limits," adding that she was "sending smiles into the universe for her."

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In this Feb. 10, 2012 file photo, actor Max von Sydow poses at the International Film Festival Berlinale, in Berlin.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.