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Flashback to March 1990: Melbourne Opens Unique EMS Helipad

By Staff Writer | October 13, 2017
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Australia Helipad March 1990

This photo originally appeared in the March 1990 issue of R&WI.

This article was originally published in the March 1990 issue of R&WI and has been edited to comply with current grammar and style guidelines. Check out our special June 2017 50th anniversary edition of the magazine, in which we celebrate the past 50 years — and look ahead to the next 50 — of rotorcraft innovations.

Over the years, Victoria has been a helicopter EMS leader in Australia. Recently, the state dedicated a new over-the-road helipad adjacent to Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital, the area’s designated trauma center. The helipad was approved Dec. 22, and the first two patients were accepted before Christmas.


Built over Commercial Road, the helipad features sound-absorbing and reflecting shields to reduce noise for hospital patients and area residents. Albert Lake and nearby Fawkner Park provide acceptable approach paths for the helicopters over unpopulated areas.

Before the new pad was operations, EMS helicopters landed in the park, and patients were loaded into a waiting ground ambulance for the trip to the hospital’s emergency rom. But crossing the very busy street that separates the park from the hospital grounds was often a difficult task for the ambulance crews. The director of road trauma services estimates that up to 30 minutes are saved in patient transfer with the new helipad.

The helipad is restricted to twin-turbine helicopters flying EMS missions. Generally, that leaves the Victorian police’s Aerospatiale SA-365C Dauphins and Lloyd Helicopters Pty. Ltd.’s Bell Helicopter 412, which flies the Latrobe Valley ambulance run. In an emergency privately owned Bell 212s or Sikorsky S-76s could be approved for landing.

The Civil Aviation Authority approved the helipad after trials with the police Dauphins and Lloyd’s 412. Future growth and possible disaster needs were taken into account when planning the pad, as up to four helicopters can be accommodated.

Alfred is in the final construction phase of a special trauma center, which is closer to the helipad than the present emergency room. The hospital is said to offer exceptional emergency equipment and a specialist staff.

When the trauma center is fully operational in May, it will have four emergency resuscitation bays, four high-dependency beds, a hyperbaric chamber for diving or other patients with the “bends,” a CAT scanner and various support services. All these will be connected with a state-of-the-art communications system, which will ink the staff with each other and with incoming helicopters and ambulances.

The new helipad and Alfred’s adjacent trauma center owe much to medevac techniques developed in Vietnam. Victoria’s Road Trauma Committee incorporated the latest trauma-care techniques when planning the pad and center.

Taxpayers contributed $15 million toward the facility. By 1992 another $24 million will be spend, most of it coming from the Victorian government, although the hospital will fund some aspects.

Victoria’s original Angel of Mercy helicopter (a modified Bell 206), which began service in 1978, was the result of a community effort to overcome road congestion and get patients to area hospitals quickly. Eight years later, two EMS-configured Dauphins were delivered and placed in service with the Victorian police. Working within a 93-mile radius of Melbourne, the Dauphins are flown with a police crew and a paramedic. Fixed-wing aircraft assist with longer legs.

In addition to transporting emergency patients in and around Melbourne, Victoria’s EMS helicopters — including Lloyd’s 412 — carry out regular transfer runs from the Latrobe Valley, some 93 miles away. The Gippsland region in the Latrobe valley is heavily forested, but also has open mines, mountains, miles of coastline and many tourists. Helicopter ambulance backup service is essential to the area.

Beyond the new facilities, Victoria is said to be looking at a new twin-turbine helicopter to support the older-model Dauphins. Rumors suggest that a new-model Dauphin is favored.

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