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Engine failure: how to predict it and how to react

A friend of mine flying an RV-6 had an engine failure on takeoff. He was 15 seconds into the flight, airborne with no going back. He put down in a corn field. He and his passenger walked away mostly unhurt. The aircraft not so much. There are lots of articles out there about flying the aircraft in this scenario but very few about what caused the abrupt power failure.