chartham train station
David Ashworth was hailed a hero when he died saving a family friend from being hit by a train at Chartham railway stationGoogle Streetview

A 74-year-old man who died saving the life of a woman who it transpired was a family friend when she jumped onto train tracks has been hailed a hero by his family.

Retired academic Dr David Ashworth saw Ella Akehurst, 38, jump from a railway bridge and land between the tracks at Chartham train station in Kent at around 11am on Tuesday (16 June).

"The lady had been on the bridge over the line and then jumped off it, landing right between the rails where she was lying parallel between them," eye witness Michael Kember, 44, told Kent Online.

"The man then jumped down and was trying to get her off. While he was doing that you could hear the electric rail buzzing, meaning that the train was coming. You could hear the driver was sounding the horn and the brakes of the train were squealing.

"The man couldn't get her off and he was then trying to get to the end of the platform but did not make it, and that was when the accident happened.

"The bloke was a hero."

A British Transport Police (BTP) spokesman said: "Shortly before 10.55am on Tuesday, 16 June, our officers were called to the line near to Chartham rail station following reports of a person having been struck by a train.

"BTP officers attended, alongside colleagues from Kent Police and South East Coast Ambulance Service, and discovered two people - a man in his 70s and a woman in her 30s - had been struck by a train.

"Sadly, the man died as a result of his injuries. The woman was treated at the scene before being taken to hospital, where she remains in a serious but stable condition.

"Both families have been informed. The incident is not being treated as suspicious and a report will be prepared for the coroner."

Ms Akehurst was airlifted to Kings College Hospital in South London. In a bizarre twist it transpired that Dr Ashworth, believed to be a widower, had known the family of Ms Akehurst for decades.

Ella's brother Luke said: "We are devastated by the death of David Ashworth who was a much-loved friend of our family and had been part of our lives for three decades.

"He was a kind, caring and totally selfless person and that he lost his life heroically saving Ella's life is a tragedy. Our thoughts are with his family."

Dr Ashworth was a professor in electronics at the University of Kent in the 1970s and once worked in the US for Nasa.

Dr Ashworth's family said in a statement: "We are very proud of our father's actions in saving the life of a young lady and clearly devastated at the loss of his life in doing so.

"Our thoughts are with the young lady, her family, and the train driver and we would like to add that we request privacy at this difficult time."