Well-known racer killed in Alvord Desert land speed record attempt

Crash under investigation

FIELDS, Ore. - (Updating with sheriff's office confirmation)

A well-known 39-year-old racer attempting to break a land speed record in a jet-powered vehicle was killed in a fatal crash Tuesday afternoon on the Alvord Desert in southeast Oregon, officials said Wednesday.

The Harney County Sheriff's Office said it received a 911 call shortly after 4 p.m. reporting the crash on the desert, a dry lake bed located in the southern part of the county, southeast of Steens Mountain and 90 miles south of Burns.

Deputies identified the driver as Jessica (Jessi) Michelle Combs of Long Beach, California.

"The cause of the crash is unknown at this time" and "remains under investigation," Lt. Brian Needham said.

Lieutenant Undersheriff Brian Needham said the sheriff's office and Bureau of Land Management are investigating the incident. 

Land speed records have been set or attempted in the past on the dried lake bed of the Alvord Desert.

Kitty O'Neil set the women's land speed record of 512.7 mph there in 1976, in a three-wheeled vehicle.

In 2013, Combs broke the four-wheeled women's land speed record at a speed of nearly 393 mph in her 52,000-horsepower, 56-foot-long,  North American Eagle Supersonic Speed Challenger — a reconfigured F-104 jet — on the 13-mile course. Then, in 2016, Combs broke 440 mph and was dubbed the fastest woman on four wheels.

Last year, after North American Eagle founder Ed Shadle died of cancer, Combs made a 483.227 mph "shakedown run" at Alvord, the team said, but a hydraulic bay door lock mechanism broke, letting the door open, and it was immediately torn away, with parts entering an engine inlet, ending the test session.

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