Formed in 1994, the Air Ambulance service was originally sponsored by Speights Brewery, and employed a specially fitted Bell Jetranger helicopter.
After three years working for the people and communities of the lower South Island, the service had grown dramatically, demonstrating that a full-time, multi-mission capable operation was required.
A twin engined BK117 was leased and equipped specifically for the Air Ambulance and Rescue role. As well as providing an easier environment to work in and many operational improvements, the change brought a new sponsor, Tranz Rail.
The next five years saw the service flourish, proving beyond doubt the need for a dedicated, professional community rescue service. To ensure the operation continued, Helicopters Otago purchased their own BK117.
In 2002 the Lion Foundation became the priniple sponsor and their valued support continued until 2008, when the Otago Regional Council became the major supporter of the Otago Regional Rescue Helicopter. The ORC considers the Rescue Helicopter a vital link between outlying communities of the Otago region and the specialised medical capabilities of Dunedin Hospital.