52nd annual Memorial Fountain Ceremony to feature son of assistant coach

On a rainy night on Nov. 14, 1970, Vince Carelli’s life changed in an instant. Southern Airways Flight 932, carrying his father, Al, and 74 other Thundering Herd coaches, teammates, staff, supporters and flight crew members crashed into a hillside as it approached Tri-State Airport. Fifty-two years later, the accident remains the worst sports tragedy in American history.

Offensive Line Coach Al Carelli Jr. died in the crash, just months after accepting his position at Marshall. His son, Vince, was only three years old. On Monday, Nov. 14, at noon, Carelli will share how the crash made an impact on his life and continues to guide his heart so many years later.

“I can’t speak from specific memory and I was too young to know really what was happening at the time, so my perspective is different,” said Carelli. “I don’t have any real memories. The only memory I have is when my mother grabbed me out of bed to watch my father do an interview on the news. I’m very thankful for my mother, grandparents and Huntington friends who have helped me to know my father.”

Carelli’s mother, Marti, was instrumental in documenting early memories, as well as the events surrounding the crash for Vince and his younger brother Ron, who was three months old at the time. She wrote a book titled Halftime, which began with a letter written to each of her sons after the crash. The book is also a personal account of her love story with Al, as well as her own story of coping with tragedy and moving on with life.

“My mother always had a ‘glass half full’ perspective on life,” said Carelli. “She and my grandparents were instrumental in helping me know who my father was. My brother and I would spend four to six weeks of every summer with my grandparents. That was vital, too. They always shared stories of my dad, and compared my brother and me to him often.”

Carelli now lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with his wife, Tamra. He works in insurance and the two have one daughter, Lauren, who attends Belmont University in Nashville and is a member of the women’s tennis team.

Returning to Huntington to attend a fountain ceremony is not something he has done before. The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted his plan to return for the 50th anniversary of the crash. Regardless, he feels a strong connection to the university and the Marshall family.

“There is one thing that typically comes from something this bad,” said Carelli. “It brings people together. When people go through a horrible tragedy, they are bonded forever. Marshall University has clung to the honoring of those affected by the 1970 tragedy. That, in itself, makes anyone at Marshall special. The family bond is made even stronger by the adversity life throws at us. I believe that has happened to the Marshall University family in a major way.”

For students who may attend the ceremony to learn about what happened for the very first time, Carelli says it’s an important part of Marshall’s legacy, and one that must continue.

“It truly is a part of who Marshall is, even 52 years later, and that is because the students take that very seriously and honor it in that way,” said Carelli. “I hope they get from me how much that means to those of us who were part of it – the way Marshall goes about instilling in their culture and student body to honor the people who were part of that horrific tragedy.”

Members of the public are invited to attend in person or view a livestream of the event, by visiting https://www.marshall.edu/livestream. Media are invited and encouraged to attend.

For more information on the Memorial Fountain Ceremony, to view a virtual plane crash memorial tour or view pictures of those who perished in the crash, visit www.marshall.edu/neverforget.