David Hamilton Rich Jr., the 22-year-old Warrenton man impaled on an eight-foot long fence post in an auto accident early Saturday, was recovering yesterday at Washington Hospital Center.

Physicians listed his condition as good.

"He's doing so well. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that nothing happens," said Dr. Vikram Paul, one of three surgeons who removed an 18-inch long section of the rail from Rich's torso in a delicate three-hour operation.

"Doctors and surgeons have been calling me all day," Paul said yesterday. "It really is a medical miracle."

Paul said his patient "was in a lot of pain" but should be released from the hospital within the next 10 days unless complications arise. "We are still worried about infection," he said.

Dr. Paul yesterday priased the Warrenton Rescue Squad for its handling of the emergency. Rich had been airlifted to the shock trauma unit by a Park Police helicopter - a service made available only 30 days ago to the rural community 50 miles west of Washington.

"We had contacted the Hospital Center two months ago asking to set up the service," said Bill Gouldthorpe, chief of the Warrenton Rescue Squad. "We were worried that the helicopter might not be able to come out this far."

Gouldthorpe said his volunteers went to the hospital center only 12 days ago to receive their training and tour the medical facilities.

"This was our first occasion to use the service, "Gouldthorpe said yesterday. "It saved his (Rich's) life."

Rich's family continued their vigil yesterday in a waiting room near the intensive care unit where the patient was recovering. At one point, Dr. Paul said, Rich opened his eyes and said, "Thank God."

The wooden post driven through Rich's upper torse - missing every vital organ - left two gaping wounds in his right chest and left side.

"We left the entrance wound open," said Dr. Paul. "We will close that up in the next three days."

Rich, who remained conscious throughout the ordeal, had been listed in stable but serious condition Saturday. He was taken off the respirator yesterday, and hospital personnel and his family said they were amazed at his rapid recovery.

"It's hard to believe," said his father.