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1. In aviation, a dangerous downward cork-screw maneuver of a disabled or uncontrollable aircraft that often leads to a crash. Also called a "spiral dive." The pilot, unaware of the plane's slight roll in the cloud bank, only realized he was in a death spiral when it was too late to overcome the dive.
2. In pairs figure skating, a maneuver in which the male partner, in a pivot position, spins the female partner with one hand in a wide circle with her body nearly parallel to the ground. The two pulled off an amazing death spiral—her head looked as though it were about to touch the ice at one point!
3. In insurance (especially health insurance), a plan in which costs rapidly increase over time due to policyholders with a lower risk opting out of the policy, forcing those dependent on it to pay higher premiums, thus prompting more low-risk policy holders to opt out and further drive up costs, and so on. I purchased my health insurance plan as a means to afford my medicine, but it turned into a death spiral when employers started offering cheaper, barebones plans that the majority of people were quick to switch to.
4. In finance, a loan given by investors to a company in exchange for convertible bonds, which can then be converted to common stock at prices lower than the market value, causing overall share prices to fall and more bondholders to trade their stock for equity, ultimately leading to a collapse of the company's stock worth altogether. To keep his company afloat, Tom was forced to take a loan that ultimately proved a death spiral, leading him to close the business anyway.
5. Any situation in which a series of events or actions, especially as a consequence of one another, ultimately lead to a point of ruin, failure, or destruction. With the recent allegations of drug abuse, corruption charges, and controversial remarks about minorities, the long-time senator now seems locked into an irreversible death spiral.