PHILIPPE COUSTEAU SR. (1940-1979)

by Edward C. Cargile

Philippe Cousteau was the second son of Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau. He was the lead underwater cinematographer for most of the Cousteau films. His eye for underwater formatting and lighting was very creative and innovative. Philippe’s amazing film work spoke much loader than his quiet manner.

Born December 30, 1940, in Toulon, France, Philippe Cousteau grew to become a man of many talents. He was a diver, a sailor, a pilot, a photographer, a cinematographer, writer and a director. As his close friend, Dr. Joe MacInnis once described Philippe, "He was not an inventor as much as he was an interpreter, for undersea exploration had at last turned to looking at the implications of its new discoveries."

Beginning in 1961, Philippe serves for two years in the French Navy (during the Algerian War) as a sonar operator and member of the landing party of the ship Le Normand.

In 1964 Philippe studied Electronic Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and becomes a licensed commercial pilot.

Philippe graduated from I'Ecole Techniques de Photographie in Paris, the French government's school of motion pictures.

In 1965 Philippe was an Oceanaut on the Conshelf III, an undersea habitat for saturated diving down to 325 feet near Ile Levant in the Mediterranean Sea. In addition to his duties as Oceanaut, Philippe was underwater photographer and did all of the underwater filming, which became a National Geographic documentary film that aired in 1966. He seemed comfortable working at any depth and under any circumstance.

He was truly at home under the sea. His graceful diving skills were impressive and his abilities in underwater cinematography have thrilled millions of viewers in many countries.

In 1966 David Wolper and Capt. Jacques Cousteau contracted to produce 26 one-hour specials for ABC ... The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.

Philippe met Jan Sullivan at the crowded ballroom of St. Regis Hotel in New York City in February 1966. Jan was a fashion model originally from Los Angeles and more recently from New York. On February 10, 1967, they were married in Paris. Jan joined Philippe on most of the Cousteau expeditions (20 of 26 filming expeditions that spanned 13 years). They had two children --- Alexandra and Philippe Jr.

His surface and underwater cinematography, and photo direction was a major part of the success of many of the Cousteau films and television specials, including:From 1968 through 1976 Philippe was the Principal Underwater Cinematographer on the very successful television series, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. He produced several other documentaries on marine life.

The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, a ABC television series (36 one-hour segments), 1968 - 1976. This impressive television series was honored with ten Emmy's.

One of the many events orchestrated by Jacques Cousteau during this series was the Deep Submersible Jamboree. Seven deep submersibles were gathered at Catalina Island off Southern California --- Deep Quest (Lockheed), Star III (General Dynamics), Deepstar 4000 (Westinghouse), DOWB (Deep Ocean Work Boat, General Motors), Nekton (General Oceanographics, Beaver IV (Rockwell International, and Sea Flea (Cousteau).

All of the submersibles had their own support vessels and crews. The Calypso was base of operations for the Sea Flea and the Cousteau divers. Philippe Cousteau led the Cousteau filming team.

At this event were such pioneers as Ron Church, Larry Shumaker, Lou Fead, Dr. Andy Rechnitzer, Ed Cargile, Joe Thompson, Ed Kruger, Andre Laban, Albert Falco Jacques Cousteau, Philippe Cousteau and many others.

This event was hosted by us at our Catalina Ocean Facility of Rockwell International, just down the hill from the USC Marine Lab. For two weeks we dove the submersibles and the Cousteau Team filmed the activities.

Since the Beaver IV was the only diver lockout vehicle of the seven deep submersibles, we also performed several lockouts of mixed-gas diver. I was both Submersible Pilot and Lockout Diver on Beaver IV.

There was one scene with all seven deep submersibles sitting on the ocean bottom in a circle facing each other.

The best part of the Deep Submersible Jamboree was at night, when all of the submersible crews gathered at the Rockwell facilities and swapped stories.

This will probably be the only time in history that seven deep submersibles and the crews will be together at one time.

Philippe wrote, filmed and directed this unique activity. The result was the 11th episodes of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau ... Those Incredible Diving Machines

Philippe wrote, directed, filmed, photographed and produced more than 30 films with his father for The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Philippe won many awards for these films ... Emmy's, awards for Best Documentaries and numerous other awards.

In Los Angeles during 1969, Philippe established his own production company ---  Thalassa. This gave Philippe a base in the United States for television films.

Also in 1969, Philippe and Jacques Cousteau co-authored the book The Shark, Splendid Savage of the Sea.

From 1962 until 1979, Philippe co-produced, directed and filmed over 26 episodes of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.

In 1972 Philippe received his helicopter license and piloted the Cousteau Hughes 300C helicopter.

He did a large part of the filming of Voyage au bout du mond (Voyage to the Edge of the World) (Antarctica) in 1975.

All the films were shown in France, the rest of Europe, Asia, Canada, the United States, Mexico, South America and other parts of the world.

Philippe acquired a PBYS seaplane in 1975. The amphibious aircraft was a converted U.S. Navy Catalina flying boat. Christened the Flying Calypso, the PBYS was in many of the Cousteau films.

The highlight of 1976 was the birth of Philippe's and Jan's first baby, Alexandra Marguerite Clementine Cousteau, born in Los Angeles on March 21. Jan and the Alexandra went on many of the expeditions with Philippe.

Later that year, Philippe suffered severe injuries when the engine of the gyrocopter seized, causing a bad crash. He spent almost a year undergoing operations and physical therapy for his injured knee.

Philippe was invited to join the U.S. Navy Sealab III Program in 1969 as an adviser and cinematographer.

When The Cousteau Society was formed in 1973, Philippe Cousteau was an important part of the founding team.  His ideas, direction, management and motivation added greatly to the rapid growth of the Society.

In 1974, Philippe's company (Thalassa) became the west coast base of operations for the Cousteau Society.

Between 1975 and 1977 he was traveling even more quickly. His responsibilities at the Cousteau Society were increasing. And he was doing more filming and directing.

Philippe Cousteau was seriously hurt in a gyrocopter accident while filming on Easter island. his right leg was broken, his kneecap shattered into a dozen fragments. By the time he was evacuated to California, his leg was badly infected and the pain was excruciating. But he recovered.

He filmed on the surface and underwater in a variety of conditions: the clear and warm waters of the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific; sea lions and elephant seals on the beach and underwater; under, on and above the Antarctic ice; plus many other challenges of the sea.

His interest in aviation included piloting a hot air balloon that was used on several of the Cousteau films. He was proficient filming from the air, on land and underwater. Philippe also became skilled in flying the converted U.S. Navy PBY amphibian seaplane, as well as the 300 Hughes helicopter. He had many successful hours as pilot of the Cousteau seaplane.

At one point, Philippe was acknowledged as number eight of the Best-Known People In The World.

Philippe Cousteau received many awards and honors for his contribution to diving and underwater photography: Several Emmy's and nominations for several more Emmy's, NOGI Award for Arts from the Underwater Society of America (now presented by The Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences) (1977), World Wildlife Award and many others.

Tragically, Philippe Cousteau was killed on June 28, 1979 in Lisbon, Portugal. Following repairs, the sea plane nose wheel came down while landing on the Tagus River, which caused the plane to flip. Even though information about hitting a sandbar came out in the newspapers and on television news right after the accident, examination of the plane fragments revealed the underbelly was not scraped, that the plane did not hit anything upon landing. Philippe was killed instantly by one of the propellers. Philippe was only 38 years old. One of the co-pilot’s arms was hurt so badly by the same propeller that killed Philippe that it eventually had to be amputated.

Philippe's daughter (Alexandra) was three years old and his son (Philippe Jr.) was born six months after his father's death.