The National Safety Council of Australia
Victorian Division at Latrobe Valley

A Brief History

by John Willis


The NSCA Hangar at Latrobe Valley


The National Safety Council of Australia, a not for profit organisation, was formed in May 1927. Its scope was initially focused on road safety, sea safety and industrial safety. In 1962 it became a federal body, but with autonomous branches in each state. The following text relates only to the Victorian Division.

In the late 1970s, the NSCA Victorian Division commenced providing industrial safety services to major construction projects in the Latrobe Valley on a contract basis.

This led to the NSCA introducing a chartered helicopter for the emergency air transport of industrial accident victims to Melbourne hospitals in April 1979.

To better utilise the helicopter, an arrangement was entered into with the Latrobe Valley District Ambulance Service to transport other patients early in 1980.

This helicopter ambulance service grew rapidly and, despite the collapse of the NSCA in 1989, is still a very important part of the Latrobe Valley and indeed Gippsland aviation scene. (See Helicopter Ambulance Service below).

The NSCA initially rented a small hangar from the Aero Club for their first helicopter, but soon started a building program, constructing an office block, hangar and maintenance workshop. As the NSCA aviation activities grew, these buildings continued to grow in stages resulting in a very large hangar complex with a broad area of concrete apron.

Training of personnel was a notable feature of the NSCA operation. Such training included flight training by Latrobe Valley Aero Club for selected NSCA staff members. Post their NSCA employment, many of these pilots achieved successful careers in civil and military aviation thanks to experience and qualifications they had gained while with the NSCA.

The NSCA use of helicopters soon included search and rescue and firebombing. At first, fire buckets, fabric containers suspended on long cables below the helicopter, were used for fire fighting, but soon belly tanks, mounted on larger Bell UH-1 "Huey" type helicopters were introduced.

In July 1983 a civilian aircraft ditched in Bass Strait. Although a survivor was located, a rescue was not affected, despite the efforts of appropriate authorities. The Department of Aviation then asked the NSCA to develop a method of reducing response times. The NSCA's response was to develop a Pararescue capability, whereby an appropriately trained and equipped parachute jumper could be delivered directly to an accident site.

At first GAF Nomad aeroplanes were used, but by April 1984 the NSCA had introduced the Beechcraft Super King Air 200, an aeroplane with remarkable all round performance and capability. Eventually the NSCA would operate six King Airs and other types including three Dornier Do-228s.

Download the NSCA Fleet List

By mid-1984 it was clear that the NSCA had outgrown the Latrobe Valley aerodrome, so a move was made to West Sale aerodrome, where an extensive complex was built.

The helicopter ambulance operation, by now known as Helimed 1, remained in the original NSCA buildings at Latrobe, while the remainder of the Latrobe complex was leased to Gippsland Aeronautics P/L, a General Aviation aircraft repair, overhaul and modification company which later became an aircraft manufacturer.

When the NSCA failed in 1989, the Latrobe Municipal Councils, as joint owners of the aerodrome, were able to obtain possession of the Latrobe Airport buildings on very favorable terms, as the NSCA had not actually ever taken out a lease on the site.


The Latrobe Valley Helicopter Ambulance Service


While fixed wing air ambulance aircraft had been serving the Latrobe Valley for many years, it was not until 1980 that an emergency medical aircraft came to be based locally.

The National Safety Council of Australia, which had been providing industrial safety services to major construction projects in the Latrobe Valley since the late 1970s, introduced a helicopter for the emergency air transport of industrial accident victims.

To better utilise the helicopter, an arrangement was entered into with the Latrobe Valley District Ambulance Service to transport other patients.

The first helicopter was a Hughes 500 VH-SCQ, a type that had been used by the US Forces in the Vietnam War as a light observation helicopter. Due to its small cabin size it was not well suited to the ambulance role. This helicopter, VH-SCQ, was nicknamed Chicken Little.

The Hughes was soon replaced in the Ambulance role by a seven seat Bell 206L-3 Long Ranger III VH-BJY (known locally as Big Bird), which provided much better space for a patient and a medical team.

In 1981 the Latrobe Valley District Ambulance Service, became Ambulance Service Victoria - South Eastern Region.

A frequent use of the service was the transport of the Neonatal Transport Service (NETS) team from Melbourne to Gippsland hospitals and returning the team, and their patients, to the city. A blessed event took place on February 7th 1983 when a baby was born in flight.

In 1984 NSCA moved most of its operation to West Sale, but the helicopter ambulance remained at Latrobe Valley, occupying the original office area and hangar.

In 1985, a Bell 412 VH-NSP, sometimes known as the Pope Mobile, as it had been used to fly Pope John Paul II on his 1983 South American tour, replaced the Long Ranger. The Bell 412 offered greater performance and the cabin was considerably bigger than the previous types. Shortly after its arrival the call sign Helimed 1 was introduced.

In 1989 the NSCA collapsed. The helicopter ambulance function was briefly carried on by a chartered helicopter until a contract could be set in place. The contract was won by Adelaide based Lloyd Helicopters, then a major Australian aviation operator. Lloyd Helicopters was acquired in 1999 by CHC Helicopters, a large Canadian-based operator.

On Boxing Day 1998, the Helimed 1 Bell 412, rescued eight sailors from the stricken yacht Stand Aside during the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.

In November 2007 Air ambulance services in the Latrobe Valley were given a major boost with the unveiling of a new $1.2 million hangar and helipad at the Airport. Latrobe City Council and the Helimed 1 Auxiliary contributed to the cost of the new facility.

From July 1st 2008 all Victorian ambulance services were merged into one organisation, Ambulance Victoria, giving one ambulance service for the whole of the state. At this time the call signs of Victorian based helicopters were changed to HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Service) with the Latrobe Valley based helicopter being designated as HEMS 2.

In 2016 Ambulance Victoria entered into a contract with Australian Helicopters P/L to provide helicopter ambulance services across all four Helicopter Emergency Service (HEMS) bases in Victoria. Australian Helicopters provides this service with a fleet of Agusta Westland AW-139. The AW-139, a very advanced helicopter type is a twin turbine powered helicopter, which has the latest in avionics technology, is faster, bigger and can travel longer distances without refuelling, than the previous types.


Back to the NSCA Beech 200 page


Major update by the author.
Original issue. Thanks to John Willis.