Jessi Combs of 'Mythbusters' dies in jet car crash attempting speed record in Oregon

The professional racer and former host of "Mythbusters" was identified as the sole fatality connected with the accident, which is under investigation.

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By Janelle Griffith

Jessi Combs, a professional speed racer and former host of "Mythbusters," died Tuesday in a crash on a dry lake bed in Oregon's Alvord Desert as she was in a jet car attempting to break a land speed record, authorities said.

She was 39.

Jessi Combs participates in a panel for Velocity's program "Overhaulin'" in Beverly Hills, California on Aug. 2, 2012.Phil McCarten / Reuters file

The Harney County Sheriff's Office said it was called to the scene of the fatal crash in the desert about 90 miles south of Burns, Oregon, around 4 p.m. Tuesday. Combs, who was nicknamed "the fastest woman on four wheels," was pursuing a record on the dry lake bed, her family said in a statement.

Combs was the lead driver on the North American Eagle racing team. She was identified as the sole fatality connected with the accident, which is under investigation. The section of the Alvord Desert the team was using was approximately 8 miles long, authorities said.

The North American Eagle is a supersonic vehicle made from the fuselage of a jet plane, according to the team's website. Combs had previously driven the vehicle on the Alvord dry lake bed in September 2018 but a malfunction had caused the door to rip off midrun, forcing her to abandon the session.

Lt. Brian Needham said there had been no known deaths in the desert while drivers attempted land speed records during his 23-year career with the sheriff's department.

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"Jessi’s bright smile, positivity and tenacious pursuit of her dreams inspired everyone who met her," Combs' family said. "Her drive and spirit were infectious, and she served as a role model for young girls and women around the world."

On Tuesday, Combs was attempting to break the Women's Land Speed Record of 512 mph, set in 1976 by Kitty O'Neil.

She was surrounded by her friends and her family at the time of her death.

"People that loved her and followed her became family, all bonded together by adventure and passion," her family said. "Her fans adored her, and she lived to inspire them."

Her most notable dream, one that she had been chasing since 2012, was to become the fastest woman on earth, according to her family.

"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.

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Terry Madden, Combs' partner and teammate, said Combs died "in a horrific accident" and that he "was the first one there."

He said he "did everything humanly possible to save her."

"I’m not OK, but she is right here keeping me going," Madden captioned an Instagram collage of video and photos of Combs.

"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," he wrote. "She was the most amazing spirit that I have ever or will ever know."

Former "Mythbusters" host Adam Savage tweeted: "She was a brilliant ... builder, engineer, driver, fabricator, and science communicator, " who "strove everyday to encourage others by her prodigious example."

Kari Byron, another former star of "Mythbusters," remembered Combs for her toughness.

"So sad to hear about Jessi. She was a badass. Always pushing limits. Sending smiles into the universe for her," Byron said in a tweet.

Combs was born in Rapid City, South Dakota, and lived in Long Beach, California, according to a biography on her racing team's website.

She not only appeared on Discovery's "Mythbusters" but also on the network's "Break Room," as well as "Overhaulin'" and "All Girls Garage" on Velocity.