A great number of debris flows occurred during the flood catastrophes of the summer of 1987 in the Swiss Alps. Aerial photography, field investigations and eyewitness accounts documented and analysed the events. As an example of the reconstructed major events, the large debris flow in the Varuna valley involved an estimated peak discharge between 400 and 800 m3/s and an event magnitude of 200,000 m3. Several single pulses were observed the duration of each of them appeared to be not more than a few minutes. Apart from incision into weak bedrock, the maximum erosion depth seemed to depend on the channel gradient. Based on approximately 600 events, typical starting zones and rainfall conditions are discussed with regard to the triggering conditions. Existing and new empirical formulae are proposed to estimate the most important flow parameters. These values are compared to debris flow data from Canada and Japan.