The O'Grady family vigil lasted six days. It seemed like 60.

A daily call from the Air Force to the William O'Grady home in Alexandria became a lifeline of hope that his son, Capt. Scott F. O'Grady, an F-16 fighter pilot, was alive.

"The wait was tough. I wouldn't wish it on anybody," said William O'Grady, 56, a radiologist who moved to the Washington area four years ago. In Seattle, Scott O'Grady's mother, Mary Lou Scardapane, who is remarried, kept a similar vigil.

Scott O'Grady's F-16 fighter was shot down over Bosnia last Friday. The Air Force notified William O'Grady that afternoon, sending a three-member team to his house to give him the news.

"I was in shock," O'Grady said. "I thought he was dead."

Thus began six days of anguish for the family, awaiting word on two coasts.

"It was crazy," said Scott's brother, Paul O'Grady, 25, who drove to Alexandria on Saturday from North Carolina, where he will attend dental school in the fall. "We heard so many different things from the press, and we heard different things from the armed forces. It was like a Ping-Pong match in your brain. You couldn't put everything together."

The family grew to depend upon a daily 11:30 a.m. phone call from Scott O'Grady's wing commanders at the Air Force Base in Aviano, Italy. The Air Force also set up a toll-free line so that the family could contact one of the commanders. "Sometimes we pulled him out of bed, poor guy," William O'Grady said.

The calls lasted as long as the family wanted, sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes longer. According to Paul O'Grady, the commanders purposely kept a measured tone, telling the family that they did not know whether Scott was alive. "I can understand {that} they didn't want to get our hopes up, but still, that was tough," he said.

The family clung to every scrap of potentially good news: every report of a beeper signal received, every possible sighting of a parachute.

"We knew if he had jumped, he was alive," William O'Grady said. But a pilot who was on the same mission as Scott O'Grady had not seen him eject.

William O'Grady said he believes the Air Force did not know his son was alive until rescue team members made radio contact with him. "Those radio signals could have come from anybody," he said. "They were worried about a trap being set up for them."

Throughout the wait, the family was careful to talk about Scott in the present tense, said his sister, Stacy O'Grady, 26, who flew in from Chicago last Friday. "We'd catch ourselves if we talked about him in the past tense," she said. "If you think the other way, then you go absolutely crazy."

Although military officials withheld the missing pilot's identity from the news media, they did not tell family members to keep the information to themselves. But spreading it was not "in our nature," William O'Grady said. By Wednesday, however, he began to inform friends and relatives who didn't know.

And their prayers and steadfast vigil were rewarded.

At 12:48 a.m. yesterday, a call from Air Force Col. Chuck Wald woke William O'Grady. They had found Scott -- alive and in good spirits. A rescue team was going in to get him.

"We were just so happy," said O'Grady, a trim, soft-spoken man who appeared radiant yesterday despite not having slept most of the night.

About 1:20 a.m., President Clinton called the family to express his good wishes.

A couple of hours later, Scott himself called from a ship bound for Aviano.

In a brief conversation with his family, the 29-year-old pilot spoke of hiding and sleeping by day and moving by night to escape capture. Stormy weather kept him from sending out radio signals for the first few days, he said. But mostly, Scott O'Grady and his family talked about their happiness at knowing they would soon be reunited. "We just said our names over and over again," Stacy O'Grady said. "He was a little overwhelmed by everything and the fact that so many people knew and were worried about him."

She said he was touched when she told him that she had slept with his "worn and torn" teddy bear Wednesday. "You just do anything to feel some sort of a connection," she said. The family hopes to have Scott home in four or five days.

When William O'Grady is reunited with his son, he knows just what he's going to do. "I'm just gonna give him a big kiss," he said, beaming. "I'm gonna tell him I love him."