Actor risks his life to save woman in Tube drama

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The Independent Online

A Shakespearean actor risked his life to rescue a woman who had fallen from a London Underground platform onto the railway line, dragging her to safety as a train approached.

Chuk Iwuji, 32, was travelling to Stratford-upon-Avon for a rehearsal of Richard III when he saw a woman lying on the track, screaming, at Clapham Common station in south London. The Royal Shakespeare Company actor and another man, who has not been identified, leapt on to the track to help her.

Mr Iwuji said he was listening to music on Monday morning as he waited for his train when he heard shouts. "This girl was on the tracks. She was obviously trapped and could not move; it looked like she was doing some kind of head-stand. She was upside down when the train was just pulling in," he said.

"She would have been about 30ft from the opening of the tunnel and the train probably stopped about 20ft from her. There was a moment when I thought it was not going to stop in time."

Mr Iwuji, who was born in Nigeria and educated in the UK, said a man ahead of him jumped to help her first which "triggered" him to follow and the pair managed to drag her to safety. "I do not see it as heroic. It was just a reaction to a situation," he said.

After rescuing the woman, he returned to the tracks and risked electrocution for a second time to rescue her shoe, which had been left behind.

He said: "It all happened in five minutes. She was conscious afterwards but in shock. Her face was half-covered in soot. I had to catch that train to be in time for rehearsals but wish I had found out her story and who the guy was who initially jumped in. I would have liked to have spoken to her, just to give it some sort of completion."

Mr Iwuji has performed in several RSC productions and will play Henry VI in Richard III which opens on Friday. He said another man behind him in the station asked him: "Do you realise that you saved her life?" He replied: "I guess so."

The rescue comes a week after a construction worker from Harlem risked his life to rescue a teenager who fell on the New York subway tracks. Wesley Autrey, 50, was standing on the platform at 137th Street station when he saw Cameron Hollopeter, a 19-year-old film student, stagger down the platform and fall onto the rails as he was having a seizure. Mr Autrey leapt after him, and pushed them both into a drainage trough to stop them both being killed as the first two carriages of an oncoming train passed over their heads.

Mr Autrey, described as an "angel" by Mr Hollopeter's mother, Rachel, was awarded the Bronze Medallion, New York's highest award for civic endeavour by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The well-known businessman Donald Trump gave him a $10,000 cheque; he has received scholarship money for his daughters and yesterday was given a Jeep.

In contrast to New Yorkers' reaction, a London Underground spokesman said: "We thank the two members of the public who helped this passenger. But we would caution strongly against people risking their lives by going on to the track, which is highly dangerous. Our staff are well trained to deal with such emergencies, and, as this incident shows, our safety procedures work."

A spokesperson for Transport for London said the woman had not been in danger because the driver had seen on his in-cab CCTV that there was a problem and was able to stop the train before it reached the platform.