Philippe Cousteau

Philippe Cousteau

After a dive off the island of Isabella, near Mazatlan, Mexico, in 1975
Born Philippe-Pierre Cousteau
(1940-12-30)December 30, 1940
Toulon, France
Died June 28, 1979(1979-06-28) (aged 38)
Tagus river
Nationality French
Spouse(s) Jan Cousteau née Sullivan
Children Alexandra Cousteau
Philippe Cousteau, Jr.
Parent(s) Jacques-Yves Cousteau
Simone Melchior

Philippe-Pierre Cousteau (December 30, 1940 – June 28, 1979) was the second son of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Simone Cousteau, a diver, sailor, pilot, photographer, author, director and cinematographer specializing in environmental issues, with a background in oceanography.

Philippe Cousteau was proficient filming from the air, on land and underwater. He was the lead cinematographer for most of the Cousteau films during his lifetime,[1] was nominated, and won multiple awards.[2]

Early life and education

Born in Toulon, Philippe Cousteau first dove with an aqua-lung in 1945 when he was 4 years old. His father brought home a miniature version of the aqua-lung he had co-invented a few years before. Though Philippe had not yet learned to swim, he followed his father into the water. Growing up, he spent each school vacation aboard his father’s ship, RV Calypso.

As a teenager, he began to feel the drive to explore. While his father had pursued the horizon on the sea, Philippe dreamed of pursuing horizons in the sky and began to study aerodynamics at the age of 16, flying first as a glider pilot, and then earning his airplane pilot license at a young age.[3]

Philippe spent two years in the French Navy during the Algerian war as a sonar operator and member of the landing party of the Le Normand ship, later earning his degree in science, spent another year at MIT, and then went to Paris to train in cinematography, graduating from I'École technique de photographie et de cinéma (now called École nationale supérieure Louis-Lumière) in Paris.


"Our goal was to serve as eyes for those who could not travel. We would be like knights errant who would travel the world, bringing their King tales of the Middle East. Except in our case, we would not be reporting to just one person but to millions."

-- Philippe Cousteau

Philippe Cousteau filming during an expedition

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 an underwater photographer and did all of the underwater filming, which became a National Geographic documentary film that aired in 1966.

In February 1967, Cousteau accompanied his father on the RV Calypso for an expedition to film the sharks of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. As well as being the lead photographer for the expedition, Philippe also chronicled his experiences in the 1970 publication The Shark: Splendid Savage of the Sea.

In 1969, Philippe lent his technical expertise to the U.S. Navy's SEALAB program. In the aftermath of aquanaut Berry L. Cannon's death while attempting to repair a leak in SEALAB III, Cousteau volunteered to dive down to SEALAB and help return it to the surface, although SEALAB was ultimately salvaged in a less hazardous way.[4]

Until his death in 1979, he co-produced numerous documentaries[5] with his father, including Voyage to the Edge of the World (1976, for the cinema theatres) and his own PBS series, Oasis in Space[6] (1977, for the television), concerning environmental issues.


Philippe Cousteau piloting PBY, Lake Victoria, Uganda, July 1978

Philippe Cousteau was a highly experienced pilot. He earned his glider pilot license at age 16 and went on to obtain pilot credentials to fly balloons, hang gliders, single and multi-engine airplanes and seaplanes, gyrocopters and helicopters.[7]

Philippe acquired a PBY Catalina seaplane in 1974. The amphibious aircraft was a converted U.S. Navy Catalina flying boat. Christened the Flying Calypso, the aircraft was in many of the Cousteau films and the home base for Philippe's team.[8]

Philippe's piloting and filming from the air skills added a unique perspective to the films.

Personal life

Philippe met Janice Sullivan in the crowded ballroom of St. Regis Hotel in New York City, NY 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, France. Jan joined Philippe on most of the Cousteau expeditions (20 of 26 filming expeditions that spanned 13 years). They had two children, Alexandra Cousteau and Philippe Cousteau, Jr. [9]


He died aged 38 in 1979 in a PBY Catalina flying boat crash in the Tagus river near Lisbon. The aircraft nosed over during a high-speed taxi run undertaken to check the hull for leakage. The propeller detached from the engine and killed Philippe instantly. All others on board survived.[10] His son, Philippe Cousteau, Jr. was born six months later.


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,[11] NOGI Award for Arts from the Underwater Society of America (now presented by The Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences) (1977),[12] World Wildlife Award and many others.


Bust of Philippe Cousteau in Salinas, Spain, close to the Philippe Cousteau Anchor Museum

The Philippe Cousteau Anchor Museum in Asturias, Spain, honors the oceanographer.

The lycée Philippe Cousteau in Saint-André-de-Cubzac, France honors his work.[13]

His children Alexandra Cousteau and Philippe Cousteau, Jr. continue the family work in oceanography as the Co-Founders of EarthEcho International.


  1. Philippe Cousteau at IMDB
  2. Philippe Cousteau at Emmy Awards
  3. Philippe Cousteau, son of sea explorer, killed in plane crash - St. Petersburg Times - Jun 29, 1979
  4. Craven, John Piña (2001). The Silent War: The Cold War Battle Beneath the Sea, New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-87213-7.
  5. Philippe Cousteau at IMDB
  6. Oasis in Space at Emmy Awards
  7. Philippe Cousteau, son of sea explorer, killed in plane crash - St. Petersburg Times - Jun 29, 1979
  8. Catalina PBY flown by Philippe Cousteau
  9. Jan and Alexandra Cousteau celebrate the family business of conservation
  10. Aviation Safety Network. "ASN Aircraft accident Consolidated PBY-6A Catalina N101CS Alverca". Retrieved 2010-07-18.
  11. Philippe Cousteau at Emmy Awards
  12. Oscars of the ocean - NOGI Awards
  13. Lycée Philippe Cousteau Official website
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