Whilst Victoria's Air Ambulance officially began in April 1962, air transport of patients actually began in early 1959 when the Peter McCallum Cancer Institute chartered aircraft on a need basis to transport patients throughout Victoria to Melbourne for treatment.   The success of air transporting patients over long distances was immediately recognised as being superior to road transport.  As a result, in early 1962 Victoria's Hospitals & Charities Commission began negotiations with the Victorian Civil Ambulance Service to extend the air transport of cancer patients, to also include the transport of critically ill patients from around Victoria to Melbourne's major Hospitals.

On the 1st May 1962,  Victoria's Air Ambulance began official operations using the Aero Commander Strike Aircraft with the first patient on the 8th May being 23 yr old Peter Connell who was seriously injured with head, spine and internal injuries.  In it's first year of operations,  only 12 patients were transported, with 30 in it's second year of operation, many of these patients being injured workers from the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme construction.  Due to the small workload, the provider (Nicholas Skyways Australia) rather than supplying a dedicated aircraft, would instead on request of an emergency, fit out any available aircraft to perform the flight.  At the same time, the Ambulance Service would attempt to find any suitably qualified Officer to undertake the flight, as again no dedicated flight Officer was provided by the Ambulance Service.



First Air Ambulance Transport - Peter Connell on a Aero Strike Commander on 8th May 1962 


In 1964, the success of the air transport system, which was found to be cheaper than transport by road (25 cents per km), demanded a review of the limited service and it was agreed that a dedicated aircraft and flight crew would be established.  It was also accepted that the service would carry out long distance clinic runs, but could be diverted for any emergency cases.  On the 29th June 1965, the new system began operations out of Moorabbin Airport with a single a Beech Twin  Bonanza.  The success of the system resulted in an additional aircraft being bought on line only a few months later, with 530 patients being transported that year and over 1000 the following year of operations.  At this time, Nurses were employed as full-time Air Attendants replacing the Ambulance Officers.



Air Ambulance's first Beech Twin Bonanza
(currently at the Nowra Air Museum)
Air Ambulance's second Beech Twin Bonanza

In 1970, Air Ambulance suffered it's first fatal accident when an Air Ambulance Beech Twin Bonanza collided with a helicopter on it's approach to Moorabbin airport killing all persons on board.


Air Ambulance's first fatal air crash killing all on board


In 1971, Executive Airlines won the contract for Air Ambulance operations , operating 4 Aero-Commander Strike aircraft.  Whilst the aircraft were extremely reliable, loading of the aircraft was quite difficult.  Operations were moved to Essendon Airport at the same time to reduce transport time from the aircraft to Melbourne Hospitals.  At this time over 1,700 patient were being transported each year.


Air Ambulance's Aero-Commander Strike


By 1979, over 5000 patients were being transported annually and a new tender was called.  Peninsular Air Services was the successful tender and operated 9 Cessna 402 Series aircraft (5 always available for operations).  The new aircraft allowed for the expanding of the service to cater for other specialised ambulance transports including the Newborn Emergency Transport Service (NETS).  Workload in 1982 was now nearly 6400 patients.


Air Ambulance's Cessna 402

In 1986, Air Ambulance began emergency retrieval helicopter operations with a SA.365C1 Dauphin 2  initially known as Air495 (now HEMS 1), and under contract with the Police operating out of Essendon Airport.  In 2001, the aircraft was replaced with an updated AS.365N3 Dauphin 2

Air 495 (SA.365C1 Dauphin 2) in it's original 1986 colour scheme

Air 495 (AS 365N3 Dauphin 2) in it's latest colour scheme


In September 1986, Air Ambulance suffered it's second fatal crash following an engine failure (caused by a faulty fuel pump) on takeoff from Essendon Airport.  The aircraft stalled when attempting to avoid power lines at the end of the airstrip and the aircraft crashed killing all 6 persons on board (pilot, nurse and 4 patients)

In 1987, Air Ambulance took over control of a second emergency retrieval helicopter - Helimed 1 (now HEMS 2), a Bell 412 EP twin engined aircraft, crewed by a pilot, crewman and a MICA-Paramedic, capable of carrying either 2 stretcher patients, or 1 stretcher & 4 sitting patients. The aircraft operates out of the Latrobe Valley airport and has a cruising speed of 120 knots and an operating raduis of 150 km.


Helimed 1 in it's HEMS 2 colour scheme

A new tender was again called in early 1989, with Sunstate Airlines of Mildura beginning operations in March 1989.  Sunstate purchased and modified 6 Cessna Titan 404 aircraft for Air Ambulance operation, of which 4 were required to always be operational.  The tender also required the building of a purpose built facility with offices, patient lounge & holding area, and staff facilities which continues to be in operation today.  In the same year, Ambulance Officers had began replacing Nurses as the Air Attendants. By 1990, Air Ambulance employed 12 pilots and 6 Air attendants.  In the year 1991, over 7000 patients were transported.

Cessna Titan 404

Cessna Titan 404


In 1998, the Royal Flying Doctors Service won the latest Air Ambulance tender. Operating 4 King Air B200  aircraft, these aircraft carry up to 2 stretcher & 2 walking patients.  The aircraft cruise at 250 knots with a range of 1200 nautical miles and are pressurised to an operating altitude of 35,00 ft.  In 1998, approx 3700 patients were transported by Air Ambulance.


Air Ambulance's King Air


In July 2001, a third emergency retrieval helicopter - HEMS 3, another Bell 412 EP twin engined aircraft began operations out of Bendigo airport.


HEMS 3 landing at the Royal Children's Hospital

HEMS 3 landing at Colac


in March 2009 HEMS 5 (retrieval Helicopter) based at Essendon began operations, followed by HEMS 4 at Warrnambool in July 2009.


HEMS 4 landing at the Royal Children's Hospital

HEMS 5 at the Royal Melbourne Hospital Helipad



In 2010, Pel-Air took over the Air Ambulance fixed wing contract, and 2011 saw the replacement of the four 16 year old KingAir B-200's being replaced by four new more powerful KingAir B-200's, updated with new flight electronics, equipment, loading systems,  and a new colour scheme.

In 2016, HEMS aircraft were replaced with 6 x AW139 Helicopters (including one in reserve) to replace the aging fleet of  4 x Bell 412's and the Dauphin.  This contract will last until 2026.



Map of Air Ambulance coverage in Victoria

In the 2015-2016 financial year, Air Ambulance with it's four x KingAir B-200s fixed wing aircraft and five x AW139 helicopters (HEMS 1-5), carried out a total of 4556 cases (2,223 fixed wing & 2,333 helicopter cases).

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