the British Association festival in Newcastle
A ROYAL Marines officer saved 20,000 civilians from drowning at the
hands of Serbian dam-busters, it was revealed yesterday.
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The unsung hero, Captain Mark Gray, 29, from Devon defied land mines
and booby traps to open a sluice gate on top of the Peruca dam in
Croatia shortly before the occupying Serbs detonated explosives deep
His audacious feat two years ago has been unknown to the public until
described to the Science Festival yesterday by engineering Professor
Paul Pack from Oxford University.
He described how Serbian militia had expelled UN observers from the
65-metre-high dam in January, 1993, and set off huge explosives in a
maintenance gallery that ran the dam's length at foundation level.
''This was an attempt to use the 540 million cubic metres of stored
water as a weapon of mass destruction to the downstream land and
population,'' said Professor Pack.
''Some 20,000 people would have been drowned or rendered homeless had
the dam failed as intended.''
Severe damage was caused to three points in the dam corresponding to
where the saboteurs had placed their explosives. In the central section
alone it was estimated that 15 tons of explosive had been used.
At each of these three points the top of the dam -- made of rock fill
with a clay core -- sagged by two metres, said Professor Pack, who was a
member of a British team despatched by the Overseas Development
Administration to inspect it and advise on repairs after the Croatians
''During the tenure of the UN observers, but while the dam was in Serb
hands, the British major, who had trained as an engineer, had visited
the site and observed that the Serbs were holding the water level well
above the correct full supply level,'' he said.
''On his own initiative, and exceeding his authority, he opened the
surface spillway gate sufficiently to slowly reduce the water level. He
managed to lower the water level by some metres by the time the attempt
to destroy the dam took place.
''Had he not been able to reduce the level, there is no doubt that the
dam would have failed as water would have poured over the slumped crest
after the explosions.''
As it was, Professor Pack said it was only a miracle that the dam had
not failed. With gunfire echoing in the hills engineers had to race
against time before the ongoing erosion of the dam's clay core caused a
blow-through and total collapse.
Professor Pack said he learned later that the officer could have been
disciplined for exceeding his authority.
''I wrote to the Ministry of Defence and told him he should be given a
Earlier, it was learned that drug experts have closed a loophole that
was enabling athletes to cheat with impunity.
Extensive research on natural levels of the hormone
dihydrotestosterone will allow sports authorities to make charges stick
against athletes who boost their levels artificially.
Dihydrotestosterone is a metabolite of the male hormone testosterone;
it occurs naturally in males and, to a lesser extent, in females, but in
both cases the levels vary from one individual to another.
Dr David Cowan, from the Drug Control Centre at King's College,
London, said: ''Thanks to extensive population testing we now have the
data setting out the parameters for its natural occurrence. This has
enabled us to set threshold levels beyond which we can say with
authority that the levels have been boosted artificially, and the
disciplinary bodies will have the data to back them up.''
The use of dihydrotestosterone came to prominence last year when
Chinese swimmers accused of using it were disqualified from the Asian
It binds to receptors in the muscle, giving added size and strength,
in the bones, boosting the manufacture of red blood cells, and in the
brain, where it arouses a more aggressive and competitive edge.
It can be obtained in the form of a fine powder, mixed with whisky,
and rubbed on to the chest, where it will penetrate the skin, said Dr
Although it does not produce acute toxic effects, long-term use can
lead to kidney and liver damage.
But higher levels, within the normal parameters, may be good news.
Tests on Greek army recruits, published recently in the Lancet, showed
that the higher the levels they had the more orgasms they achieved in
the course of a week.
Meanwhile, Dr Cowan and his colleagues have turned their attention to
other cheating agents which have proved difficult to detect, and hope to
crack them too.
In another medical breakthrough, saliva tests may soon be used to
determine when workers are over-stressed and need a break.
The tests will go under trial next year on business executives and
Excessive stress can lower resistance to infection, said former
athlete Dr Lynn Fitzgerald, Reader in Sports Science at Brunel
''Accountants are prone to herpes towards the end of the financial
year when they are struggling to get their books balanced,'' she said.
''Athletes are pushing themselves harder than ever before, and more
are suffering from illness -- colds, sore throats and flu, post-vital
fatigue syndrome, and chronic fatigue.
''Infections result in poor performance, with weeks or even months of
Although some stress was no bad thing, there was a well-established
link between psychological stress and immune competence, she added.
Cortisol, adrenalin, and neuropeptides are released during
psychological stress as well as during physical exercise.
''The effects on the immune system of the physical stresses of elite
athletes appear to be cumulative,'' said Dr Fitzgerald. ''Each
exhaustive training session or competition compromises the immune system
for a few hours, which provides an opportunity for infections to take